2011 book reviews

March

I checked out & finished from the library

Third Degree (Murder 101 Mysteries)This is the 5th book in this series with Professor Alison Bergeron as sleuth. It also features her NYPD detective boyfriend. I enjoyed it, not quite as much as the others though. I think I’m having the sustainability issue I often have with modern mysteries. There are really only so many ways a professor at a small college can keep coming into contact with dead bodies.Even in NYC. And after the first couple of them I really start to wonder why the cops just don’t arrest her outright at the scene. No way someone stumbles across 5 bodies (one an ex husband) in what appears to be a less than 12 month period, unless they are somehow involved in the deaths. I think this book seemed a bit of a stretch for me. The reason for seeing the body is clear enough, could happen to anyone, but the motive to investigate seemed forced.
The Queen’s Rival: In the Court of Henry VIII Tudor fiction is a particular favorite of mine. Sadly, when dealing with real people, this means there is no new story out there ever for me. Just retellings of things that I already know how they end & very very few stories involving the Tudors end happily for everyone.This is not one of them. This is the story of Bessie Blount who was the king’s mistress before Mary Boleyn. She gave Henry VIII his long awaited but alas illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. She was married off & the baby taken from her & raised by ‘more suitable’ people. He would die as a teenager of probably consumption but at the time it was speculated Anne Boleyn poisoned him. So. Sad ending. But a decent story. I think she did a good job on the relationship between Bess & Henry. Bess was a well drawn character & the plot moved along well. It is one of a series of books set at the same time & some of the people from previous books make appearances in this one, but nothing is lost if you haven’t read those books.

On the Kindle I read

Sweet’s Sweets: The Second Samantha Sweet Mystery. I enjoyed the first one of these & since the second was also only $2.99 I bought it as well. Sam Sweet has opened her bakery but she is still cleaning up foreclosed homes. She found a coat covered in blood in one of them. Then the body of an unknown man turns up in the river & Sam thinks they are related. Then a friend commits suicide but Sam thinks it’s murder.Sam also has a mysterious box that has magical powers that give her energy & sometimes helps her to ‘see’ things or hear things. I think there is just the right level of magic in these stories. I don’t generally read books with supernatural things in them because I think a lot of the time it is used a a crutch to get characters out of situations the author didn’t mean to get them into & can’t think of a logical way to get them out. This is done well though, just enough little enhancements & Sam knows no more about the box & what it can do that we do. I recommend this one & the first book Sweet Masterpiece
Vacations Can Be Murder: The Second Charlie Parker Mystery Same author, different series. The first book Deadly Gamble, was entertaining so I bought the second. Charlie Parker works with her brother in a detective agency. In this book she has taken a vacation to Hawaii. She takes a helicopter tour & they spot a dead body while on it. She & the pilot hit it off. Then he becomes a suspect, as do other people in the hotel where Charlie is staying.She gets semi hired to look into the death & that is the plot. It was a good read. But I am not so fond of the series I will buy any more anytime soon. However the library has several & I’ll be checking them out in time.
How to Woo a Reluctant Lady (The Hellions of Halstead Hall)My romance this month. It too is part of a series(what can I say, when I find a thing I like, I stick with it). This is the 3rd of a series, set in Regency England, based on 5 siblings who have to get married within a year or Grandma cuts them out of the will.The previous two were the oldest sons, this one is the oldest daughter Minerva, who has no interest in marrying & just wants to be left alone to write her gothic novels (featuring a bad guy character based on a family friend). She makes a deal with that family friend to pretend to be engaged & it ends predictably. But that does not take away from the enjoyment of watching the characters get to the ending. I find this series a good deal of fun & look forward to seeing how the remaining siblings get paired up
The Darling Strumpet: A Novel of Nell Gwynn, Who Captured the Heart of England and King Charles II This is the rather bawdy tale of Nell Gwynn. She started out as an orange girl & prostitute & was several other men’s mistress before becoming the King’s so you get a good many sexual scenes as part of her story.I don’t mind that, I read romance novels after all. Smile I thought it was a very good retelling of Nell’s story & that it stuck close to actual history, which I always prefer even in fiction. Nell is a very likeable character with understandable motives behind her actions. She and the others were very well formed, the setting fully developed, the period language worked well (which so often is not the case) & there were lots of enjoyable details worked throughout. I highly recommend this if you are into the Restoration era
Maids of Misfortune: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery The Victorian era is one of my favorites for mysteries. The main character is a boarding house keeper & she partners up eventually with a young lawyer. The mystery is well done & complex enough to keep you interested. The characters are fully developed & likeable (the ones you are supposed to like anyway). There were plenty of period details & it gives a great sense of time & place. There was a nice mix of mystery & romance. All in all a highly enjoyable read. It has a ‘first in a series’ feel but it was published in 2009 & apart from a short story there has been nothing else written. yet.
One of Our Thursdays Is Missing: A NovelThis is the latest in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series. The previous one jumped us about 14 years in the future, this one is apparently set within a year or so of that one but since almost all of it takes place in the Book World, dates & timelines in the real world don’t really matter. If you have not read the other books, you will be hopelessly lost with this book. If you have read some of the other books you will still be lost. If you have read all of them you are mostly good but probably will still be left going ‘huh?” several times.It was ok. The focus was the wishy washy Thursday from the ‘book’ the real Thursday preferred, not the uber sexy, uber violent one of the other ‘books’. I was not thrilled with either fictional Thursday but at least the violent one was less wishy washy. But it was an engrossing enough plot I dealt with wishy washy fine. I do wish there had been more time spent in the Real World & that things there were given more backstory but the problem with first person narrative (as fictional Thursday herself points out) is you only know what the narrator knows & fictional Thursday doesn’t know much about the Real World. There were all the usual enjoyable elements – puns, plenty of references to actual novels & characters, plus mention of the current changes in book publishing, like self-publishing & ebook readers and lots and lots of info on the day to day business of being a character in a book. I’m not sure what to think of it. It starts slow & the ending wasn’t that final, if you know what I mean. I get a ‘second in a trilogy’ feeling from it, even though it’s the 6th in the series. Possibly it’s 3rd in a series finale? I hope the next one picks up where this left off, only from real Thursday’s point of view
Legacy: The Acclaimed Novel of Elizabeth, England’s Most Passionate Queen — and the Three Men Who Loved Her Yet another novel of Elizabeth I. I’ve read so very many of them over the years. This one was very well done. It was very accurate historically with enough fictional twists & explanations for things to keep it interesting.It’s sort of a psychological study of Elizabeth & her relationships with Robert Dudley, William Cecil and Robert, Earl of Essex, what binds them together, what tears them apart & how they all interact with the various dramatic events of Elizabeth’s reign. It’s very well done, lots of period details, well developed settings & personalities. Sometimes I had to remind myself this was fiction & not non-fiction & that is always a good thing to me. There was a soap opera feel to the story but really, England from the Wars of the Roses to the Restoration reads like one long soap opera IMO so I’m fine with that
The Last ContinentI love Discworld. Not the witches, but pretty much all the rest of it. Especially Night Watch & the wizards. This book is about the wizard Rincewind who ends up magically on a far away continent (Australia) and his adventures in the water-less land down other. It’s also about the faculty of Unseen University who magically end up nearby but thousands of years in the past.It was funny & had endless references to Aussie life, probably including some that went right by me. I get that fairly often in satiric British writing. I find stuff funny but I am sure it would be funnier if I understood the real context better, assuming I catch the reference at all. This never stops me enjoying the books though.

and in the dead tree books category we have

The Tudor Secret (The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles)I enjoyed this a great deal. It is the story of a foundling, Brendan, who was taken in by the Dudley family & raised as a family retainer. He’s sent to court with Robert Dudley around the time King Edward is dying. Brendan ends up working as a spy for William Cecil in the service of Lady Elizabeth during the upheaval following Edward’s death.The Dudleys are a bit overdone as the bad guys in general, but Robert himself is well drawn & believable. Brendan is likeable & manages to come across as intelligent but not yet wise (like many young men) . There is lots of action, the plot is fast paced with intrigue & espionage. The setting is well developed but doesn’t overwhelm the plot or characters. I highly recommend this one if you like spy stories or historic thrillers

And now a word from our sponsors… The Tudor Secret was given to me by the publisher with the understanding I would publish a review of it on Library Thing. What I said & where else I said it were up to me. .

April

I read 14 books in April. 4 on the Kindle and 10 dead tree books from the library. On the Kindle I read

The Folklore of Discworld – which tries to be a comprehensive collection of folklore & myth on Discworld but mostly draws parallels between things on Earth and things on the Disc. Nothing wrong with that in general, but I was hoping for more Discworld myth & stories than Earth stuff. I could make nearly all those connections myself. I enjoyed it but felt it wasn’t living up to what it could have been.
Anthem for Doomed Youth: A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery (Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries) – I love this series but this book was a bit of a disappointment. It was well written, the familiar characters were there (though why Melanie was I can’t guess). Alec was off on one big mystery Daisy was unable to get tangled in (much to the Superintendent’s delight) and there was a smaller one that she was in over her head on (that the Superintendent didn’t hear about until it was over) but it seemed to be missing that spark you get when Daisy & Alec (her CDI husband) work together on something.
The Land of Painted Caves: A Novel (Earth’s Children) – And at last, what was possibly the slowest written series in the English language is over. I read Clan of the Cave Bear in 1982. No spoilers but anyone who has read the series saw the ending coming from 3 books back.. ok, one spoiler – we now know who’s to blame for the rise of the patriarchy. This book has the feel of Plains of Passage, lots of travel. Ayla is taken by Zelandoni all around France to see all the painted caves as part of her training. Fewer caves would have been fine. Or perhaps less description of them. Detail overload on the cave paintings. Lots of research went in to it but perhaps every last one of those findings did not need to make it into the narrative. Also? Jondalar was missing much of the time. Oh he was around… in that vague way secondary characters are around & I think the book suffered from that. Especially since we learn in the last quarter of the book that he has had this whole subplot of his own running since the beginning without word one mentioned until then. I think dragging that plot out into the light early on would have added some needed tension & character development to the story. I’m glad I read it, I needed the closure after 30 years, but it felt lacking somehow.
The Clue of the Twisted Candle -A Classic Mystery from the Golden Age. I love 1920s-30s British mysteries. This one is a classic locked room mystery, which are always entertaining in small amounts. It confused me at first because there was a murder & a set up against an innocent person & then a conviction in the first third of the book & I was like “Well, now what?” But then the *real* murder happened (that first murder was just incidental to the plot). I’m not used to such a vast amount of guilt being so incredibly obvious. But HOW did he do it, without the how there will be no conviction! This was a great read & free on Kindle too!

Overall the Kindle reads were rather a disappointment this month, apart from the last one. I had more success at the library

The Spellman Files: A Novel There are 4 books in this series & I read all 4 of them in a row. If you like Stephanie Plum or Meg Langslow you will like Isabel Spellman. She was born into a family of PIs and has been working for them since she was 15. Unlike Stephanie though, Isabel learns from her mistakes (and they are doozies) & over the 4 books she grows as a person, slowly putting her troublemaking aside, learning to think about others, learning judgment, patience & to trust herself, though she still has issues with men. She refers to them as “ex boyfriend #12” while still dating them since no relationship has lasted more than 3 months. It’s a fun series overall, though her younger sister can be really annoying.
The River Knows– a Regency romance with a mystery thrown in. It was exactly what I expected. I’ve read her books for years & years & I enjoy them for the mind candy
To Defy a King – Historic fiction set at the time of King John & Magna Carta, part of a series. This book focuses on Mahelt Marshall, daughter of William Marshall & her husband Hugh Bigod. They are part of the rebellion against John…eventually…it takes time for Hugh & his family to work around to it, though Mahelt has been anti John since we met her as a child. It is very well done, great research, lots of detail. Loved it.
The Mischief of the Mistletoe: A Pink Carnation Christmas A fun entry in the series. It’s the story of Turnip Fitzhugh, the buffoon of the series, and Arabella Dempsey, who has appeared a couple times in other novels as a shy wallflower. They come together over some trouble with a missing Christmas pudding & end up taking on a murderous spy. Lots of witty repartee & I love witty repartee. I enjoyed it, probably more than the rest because it stayed set in the past, none of the hopping back & forth between the past & the present like the rest of the series. I like the story about Eloise & Colin but sometimes the hopping back & forth drives me buggy. I have been known to check the books out & read them skipping the modern stuff & then reread them skipping the historic stuff, so I appreciated just having one story to follow in this one
The Forever Queen Emma, queen of Ethelred the Unready & of Cnut, mother to Hardicanute & Edward the Confessor. Great Aunt to William the Conqueror. 50 years as Queen of England, dealing with the Vikings & politics & men being men. A very interesting book about a very intriguing woman. I found it hard sometimes to sympathize with her. She cares more for her crown than her kids & is cruel to them & her 1st husband (though she’s giving as good as she gets where he is concerned) I simply cannot imagine the choices she had to make to keep her sons by Ethelred alive when Cnut came to the throne, but she doesn’t seem to like them very much & to be acting for England rather than as a mother, which I suppose is the price you pay for power. It was very engrossing, lots of period details, rather heavy on temporary secondary characters with similar names but I highly recommend it if you like historic fiction.
The Third Circle (Arcane Society, Book 4) Regency romance with a supernatural twist. I’m not a fan of the mystical in most books anymore. Once I was. Once I loved it, but apparently I OD’d & now find the mere mention of the paranormal a turn off (oh look ANOTHER vampire/zombie/witch book). But this was ok. I can deal with this level of mystical, its more of an ESP kind of thing. Kind of a weak plot though, the heroine can use stones to help people in various mental ways. There is a particular stone the bad guys want & the good guys want & she wants for herself. You can guess the plot from there I suspect
The Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer Oh look! ANOTHER vampire book! I’d been staring at this book on the ‘new books’ shelf for a couple of months now. Being a student of Tudor history I have a hard time turning down any form of Tudor fiction… but vampires? Really? Did you have to go there? But then I hit a lull in book acquisition & ran out of viable options. There was NOTHING TO READ. Or at least nothing that drew me more than this book. It was not as bad as I feared and I’ll read the next book when it comes out. I can deal with this vampire series. Elizabeth turns out to be the Slayer that England has been waiting for over 1000 years. Her direct ancestoress was Morgaine, the famed vampire slayer of yore. (what? you didn’t know that?) Morgaine failed to slay Mordred (the Vampire King. He became a vampire to defeat his father Arthur) 1000 years ago after the battle where Arthur died (several other slight detail changes in that story) & ended up dying herself while only gravely wounding him. Though apparently she killed off all the other vampires. Mordred has spent the past 1000 years rebuilding his vampire kingdom & waiting for the new Slayer, who he plans to seduce to his side & make his queen. Elizabeth has other ideas. Yeah, it’s a vampire book, no I don’t like vampire books, but I kind of like this one. Vampires are clearly the bad guys, they don’t hog the narrative, Elizabeth is still Elizabeth but with something extra. I can deal with this.

Just as a disclaimer…I OD’d on Anne Rice back in the day. I loved the Lestat books (though Marius was my favorite) and read them over and over and over and well… I feel sort of ‘been there, done that’ about vampires now. Then there were her Witches books. Same thing. So I’m just not that into the current plethora of vampire/zombie/magic books that are saturating the market. I try some every now & then, usually I am disappointed. I got lucky this month.

May

This won’t be a fancily laid out as previous ones because most of the books come from a single series.

I bought second hand & read all the books in Sabrina Jeffries’ School for Heiresses series – 6 books, set in Regency England, including the amusingly titled last book, Wed Him Before You Bed Him, which 9 out of 10 women in Regency romances utterly fail to do, including the star of the aforementioned book.

Don’t read 6 Regency romances in a row. It’s not a good idea. Especially if you are a married, 40 something woman with a cynical outlook & just starting a new sleep regimen.

Do you know the 3 things about Regency romances that are the most jarring to me?

1. Mutual orgasms EVERY SINGLE TIME! I mean seriously. Every single time? I’m all for suspending disbelief to further the narrative in fiction but come on. Sometimes someone goes early or is left hanging if you know what I mean.

2. No morning breath ever. Given the level of dental hygiene at the time this has to be damn near impossible. And yet there they are, the randy hero & heroine, rolling over at the crack of dawn for some long passionate kisses and one more mutual orgasm before one or the other has to sneak back to their own bed before the servants wake up. Maybe they had lower expectations. Maybe in the 21 years since the early days of DH & I’s relationship & our own predawn wake ups prior to going home, I have forgotten that morning breath didn’t matter then. Given the state of my memory anything is possible

3. Someone needs to require all romance editors & authors to take a course on female anatomy. Specifically the location of the hymen. Here’s a hint, it is NOT half up the vagina.

These things bother me more than the oft repeated plot devices

A. ‘not telling someone something for no good reason other than if they did the story would only be 3 chapters long’

B.“perfectly capable woman going successfully about her chosen interest meets a man who finds what she is doing ‘too dangerous’ for her & causes no end of trouble ‘protecting her’ from herself” which would be fine if HE learned the error of his ways but almost always ends with some sort of half assed situation he himself caused that proves him right.

So why do I read them? I often ask myself that.

I generally like Sabrina Jeffries’ books. She has fun heroines & witty dialogue & can tell a good solid story. She generally doesn’t use annoying plot device A & out of 6 books only truly used plot device B once, though there were parts of it in another one.

Overall I enjoyed them. Fun, light reading that I complicated by overthinking the sexual details. Most times I can just let that stuff go. Sometimes I can’t. This month (well, ok, 4 books in) was a can’t. (I was fine for the first 3 books) Not Ms Jeffries fault.

From the library:

I read a memoir called The Foremost Good Fortune by a woman who’s family moved to China for 2 years. Ordinarily I like this sort of thing, but the author of this book was not, IMO a very sympathetic character. She whined a lot about difficulties but when presented with chances to change the situations she whined & got judgy & failed to make the effort & whined some more. Then she learned she had cancer & ordinarily the struggles of that would make her a more sympathetic character but no. She talked a good game about her thoughts but her actions showed she made none of the changes she claimed to have made. Perhaps that’s a result of editing, lots of time was skipped over.  There were parts where I related & actually liked her but for the most part I’m not surprised she had a hard time making friends.  And the wrap up seemed forced. Like she felt she had to give it a ‘oh yeah, we’d go back” ending because “Thank god that’s over!” might not sell.

There was also the Oracle of Stambul, which was a beautifully written book that suffered only from an abrupt ending. It’s the story of child named Eleanora who in 1877 stows away on her father’s trip to Stambul. There her life changes forever while living with her father’s business partner Moncef Bey. It’s magical, full of details of the time & place.  The prose style was wonderfully fitting, feeling almost like it had been written at time of the setting. It did get a bit slow in places & like I said, ended rather abruptly but it is based on a real event & sometimes well, things just end. I highly  recommend it.

There was The Secret Eleanor, fiction about Eleanor of Aquitaine & her sister, Petronilla. The plot is that Eleanor & Henry of Anjou hop in the sack a day or so after meeting & Eleanor gets pregnant which must be hidden so she can divorce her husband Louis of France & then marry Henry. The sisters have a strong resemblance & Petronilla stands in on public occasions for Eleanor & allows there to be rumors that she, Petronilla, is the one who is pregnant. Eleanor has the baby, gives it to Petronilla & goes off to marry Henry, the end. Overall it was ok. Not gripping but not dull.

And there were Blackout & All Clear, which I reviewed earlier here.  Wonderful books!

Last was a 99 cent Kindle offering called Take the Monkeys & Run, which had flashes of brilliance but mostly gave you what you paid for it. But potential is there & I hope the author writes another one.

So, three clear winners plus 6 positives that only suffered from overdoing on my part & 3 so-so to not so good books.  Overall a good month for reading.

June

Lets start with the library books – all by Georgette Heyer.

Frederica – the story of Frederica a distant connection of Lord Alverstoke who asks him to help her introduce her sister into Society. Just perhaps invite them to a party at his house, one he was asked to have for his nieces anyway. But soon she & her siblings end up involving him in all sorts of mishaps. Very funny & entertaining. Both hero & heroine and assorted secondary characters are very likeable people. No flogging potential at all. Recommended

Cotillion- I really enjoyed this one & I can’t tell you why without spoiling it.  Kitty’s guardian decides to leave his large fortune to whichever of his nephews she decides to marry. She persuades one to take her to London so she can pursue another while two others Disapprove. Once there she gets involved in a number of scrapes & needs rescuing.  This was laugh out loud funny & no flogging was needed.

Sprig Muslin- Sir Gareth Ludlow needs to wed & resolves to propose to a friend of his long deceased fiancée. One his way to propose to Lady Hester he encounters a young miss named Amanda who is running away from home to meet up with the officer she is in love with. There are mishaps, misunderstandings & an encounter with a dangerous highwayman! Wonderfully written! Very amusing. No flogging but Amanda could have done with a shake or two.

Arabella – The daughter of a well bred but impoverished clergyman, with many brothers & sisters, Arabella goes to London to marry money. While travelling she has a carriage accident & meets Richard Beaumaris. She overhears him assuming she has manufactured the meeting because she is after his money so she lies about being a very well off heiress. This lie follows her to London & problems ensue. It’s a sweet story & entertaining.

The Convenient Marriage – No flogging potential, but perhaps a couple sharp slaps might be in order.  Miss Horatia Winwood offers to marry her sister’s unwanted suitor, the Earl of Rule, so her sister can marry the man she loves. Rule’s enemy decides to cause trouble for Rule by seducing Horatia & leading her into debt.  Rule is a nice guy. He has his issues but he is a decent enough fellow & it takes Horatia quite a bit longer than I think necessary to appreciate it, hence the need for a couple sharp slaps.  This one is set in Georgian times rather than Regency.

The Reluctant Widow – Very far fetched plot & considering the sorts of things I read, that is saying something. Elinor is working as a governness & gets into the wrong carriage.  She thinks she has been picked up by her new employer but is actually picked up by Lord Carlyon’s carriage, mistaken for a woman who has been hired to marry his cousin. The cousin is a troublemaking drunkard, destined to die an early death & Carlyon wants him married off so he, Carlyon won’t inherit the cousin’s property & any money. No adequate reason is given IMO for this desire not to inherit. Elinor is against the idea but eventually goes along with it as the cousin lays dying of a bullet wound. Then things get weird for her. yeah. Not my favorite of the bunch but still a good read.

Next we have some Kindle books

The Grand Sophie by Georgette Heyer – My favorite of the bunch. Sophie arrives for a visit on her Aunt’s doorstep with a menagerie in tow & promptly turns the household upside down, include cousin Charles. Apart from being personally against the idea of first cousins marrying, I liked the book a great deal. It was very witty & laugh out loud funny in places.

Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase – humorous stories of air travel. Eh.

The Affair of the Bloodstained Tea Cozy – Amusing 1930’s country house murder a la Agatha Christie. Complete with poor friends, visiting Americans, the Lord of the Manor, spies, diplomats and a mysterious foreign countess. I didn’t figure out whodunnit & that is rare.

Smoking Seventeen – Very early on I decided that if the dancing bear ended up in Stephanie’s apartment I would metaphorically throw the book across the room & stomp on it. Fortunately that didn’t happen. But unfortunately I did wonder, what with her past history, how she failed – repeatedly – to spot the murderer. I figured out who it was practically the moment his name came up. That didn’t detract from the rest of it. I like Stephanie & her interactions with Morelli & Ranger.  Morelli’s grandmother puts a curse on Stephanie early on & watching it manifest was no end amusing. The plot is that bodies keep turning up in the spot where Vinnie’s bail bonds office is being rebuilt, plus one in Stephanie’s car. The bonds office is working out of various places in the meantime including Mooner’s RV, Starbucks & Stephanie’s apartment. Plus her mom has given up on getting Morelli as a son in law & is back to fixing Stephanie up, this time with the former high school football star.

July

I read a lot this month. Both new and rereads.

I reread all of the books in the Bastion Club & Black Cobra Quartet by Stephanie Laurens, still in pursuit of my summer thesis on The Ever ‘Evolving’ Hero in Regency Romances.

This brings me to the first of the library books

The Secret Mistress by Mary Balogh – apparently this is one in a series but I haven’t read the others. It’s ok. Angeline is looking for a non-rake to marry. Her father & brothers have given her her fill of rakes. She meets the dull & stuffy Earl of Heywood & falls in love, but it takes the Earl awhile to come around to the idea.

See, one of my gripes about swashbuckling heroes is – what do they do of an evening once all the buckles have been swashed? What do they have to talk about it? What do they really have in common with the heroine or even know about each other half the time? Let’s face it, between hunting bad guys & finding new & different places to have mutual orgasms, most romance characters don’t talk about other things much. And the men never seem like the sort that are given to intellectual things. Oh sure they are all very intelligent in heroic subjects like warfare & politics, but they never mention other interests & they never pick up a book or mention having read on.

I think most of them would be rather dull to deal with after a bit.

Especially with no TV as a distraction.

Edward, the Earl of Heywood, is intellectual. He does read & carry on thoughtful & intelligent conversations about a variety of topics & interests. As a long term relationship prospect he scores high.

But as a hero…he needs a swordfight or maybe to take out a highwayman. He’s lacking a bit of …dash. There is not much conflict in the story, so he doesn’t get to really be heroic.

What I want is a hero with a sword in one hand and book in the other. (preferably not a book on “The Heroic Art of Swordfighting, or How to Swashbuckle & Get Girls”)

Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz & David Heyward -This was an interesting book. It’s a modern day murder mystery featuring a pot growing brother & sister who find a dead body in their yard, dump it elsewhere, only to have it returned the next night. In addition to the main plot there is something else going on. The authors apparently have some unresolved hostility from a prior venture. The take turns each writing a chapter & they leave messages for one another at the end & we get to read along  as their working & personal relationship falls apart.  It’s actually quite funny & freaky at the same time. The ending seemed a bit abrupt but it was clear that it just needed to end for everyone’s sake.

The ExBoyfriend’s Handbook by Matt Dunn -Eddie wants to get his ex girlfriend back and with the dubious help of a friend & the far more useful help of a personal trainer, he sets out to become again the man she fell in love with years earlier. She helpfully left him a list when she cleared their apartment out. It was a good read. It’s a nice story. I liked Eddie and enjoyed being along for his early morning jogs & attempts at speed dating (to gauge how he is improving)

Royal Pains by Leslie Carroll – Non fiction about the hijinks of the British Royal family starting with Charles II. Humorous & entertaining.

Catherine of Aragon by Giles Tremlett – Very readable non fiction about Henry VIII’s first queen.

On the Kindle I read

The Real Macaw by Donna Andrews – The newest Meg Langslow mystery. A man is found dead instead of helping with the raid on the country animal shelter (to save them from being euthanized as a cost saving measure). He was having a few affairs. He was found in the wrong part of town. He had been investigating the mayor about some bad loans. The city has taken out loans on county owned buildings & defaulted on the mortgages.  Who killed him & why? Meg is involved because the animals ended up at her house as usual & because in order to raise money to pay the mortgages the mayor was going to have her property taken through imminent domain & sold to developers for a golf course. It’s ok. It’s awkward, in some ways. Meg has 4 month old twins & working a sleuth around that logistically is very hard to do believably. Andrews tries & manages to deal mostly by working in a very short timeline. but I think a live in Nanny who is not a plot point herself like Rose Noire often is, needs to be in Meg’s future.

Chickens, Mules & Two Old Fools by Victoria Tweed – Non fiction memoir about an English couple who decide to retire to Andalusia in Spain for 5 years & buy a house they can renovate. The renovations to get covered but this is mostly a story about she & her husband adjusting to life there. It is very funny, especially the bits about the chickens

Big in China by Alan Paul – Nonfiction memoir about a man who moves to China with his wife & kids for 3 years. They moved for her job so he became a stay at home dad & started a jazz band. He was just about the only stay at home dad he knew of & his attempts to fit in are funny. The band, which was mostly made of Chinese members, became a big hit in China right around the time he had to leave the country. Overall it was a great story.

Life from Scratch by Melissa Ford – Fiction. It’s the story of Rachel Goldman who is newly divorced after 12 years & is trying to adjust to her new life by learning to cook. She keeps a blog about it and about her life as she tries dating again.  It’s very well done & is nice, quick read.

From Audible.com I listened to

Ragtime in Simla & The Palace Tiger by Barbara Cleverly – Both are mysteries set in 1922 India, featuring Scotland Yard detective Joe Sandilands. He is India to teach about new police techniques and as his time there is ending he is borrowed by Sir George Jardine to investigate some problems he is having. The first is in Simla, when a Russian opera singer is shot and the other is in Ranipur where two heirs to the throne have died in different mysterious circumstances. I enjoyed them both so much I found others in the series used at Better World Books & ordered them.

August

I read 10 books. 7 of them were romances but not all of them were Regency settings.

The other 2 were mysteries by the same author

Last Kashmiri Rose & The Damascened Blade by Barbara Cleverly. Both are set in 1920’s India and feature Scotland Yard Detective Joe Sandilands, who is out in India teaching new police techniques, like identifying guns by the rifling on the bullets, to the local police forces.

In Last Kashmiri Rose he is asked to look into the recent murder of a British officer’s wife, which may be part of series of murders that occurred before the war. I found it rather obvious who the murderer was but it was interesting watching Joe get there. Some of the male characters seemed a bit too stereotypical 1920’s British Officer types while the female ones had greater depth for the most part. Overall it was ok, not as good as the others, but decent.

In the Damascened Blade he is sent off to basically babysit an American heiress as she tours the northwest frontier with Afghanistan. They end up at an outpost just as a Pathan prince is murdered. The victim’s kinsman takes hostages & demands the murderer be found within a week or there could be war. The characters in this book were better fleshed out than the last & the mystery more engrossing.

Both books (actually all 4 books including Ragtime in Simla & The Palace Tiger, which I listened to on audio earlier this year) walk a middle road on their portrayal of the end of the Raj. They are not pro British rule nor do they spend much time moaning about the evils of it. They give a nice flavor of the times & anyone who has read a Miss Marple book will recognize an old India boor in the making in many of the male characters.  I enjoyed these 4 of the series. After these the setting moves back to Europe & those are less interesting to me. I’m listening to The Bees Kiss now & while it is still holding my interest, I don’t feel the desire to try & find it in paperback. I read much faster than I listen & when an audiobook really interests me I often stop listening in favor of reading.

I read three romances by Amanda Quick. All involved the paranormal & were set in late Victorian times (though the only real giveaway to that are the mentions of women wearing bustles & of photography). Quick’s books do not feature a lot of sex & what there is seems much more realistic to me, not that anyone has complained of morning breath yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them did some day. I almost always love her heroines; they are smart, clever women who are financially supporting themselves at a time when women rarely did so & generally are supporting a family as well. Her heroes rarely seem overbearing,they are not trying to prevent the heroine from following her interests & they are not always somewhat wistfully wondering if they have gotten the heroine pregnant so she has to marry them the way Stephanie Laurens’ heroes often are. Though the preponderance of illegitimate characters does leave one wondering if anyone in her world has sex with a person to whom they are actually married.

Quicksilver: Book Two of the Looking Glass Trilogy Also book 11 in the Arcane Society series. I failed to read this series in order & that does leave me occasionally wondering what went before because there is an assumption of knowledge about the Arcane Society itself as well as of various prominent members of the Society. The heroine is Virginia Dean, a glass reader, who sees images of the dead in mirrors. She wakes up next to a dead man with no recollection of what happened earlier. Two other glass readers have recently turned up dead as well. As she makes her escape from the house she encounters Owen Sweetwater, who is investigating those deaths. Owen has psychic powers of his own, which apparently will drive him mad in time if he doesn’t find an appropriate wife. The details of how exactly this curse works are never really made clear. Owen decides Virginia is the wife he needs but first he needs to figure how who killed the murdered women to keep Virginia safe. It’s enjoyable mind candy if you don’t look to closely for details.
Wait Until Midnight Adam Hardesty is being blackmailed by a medium.When he goes to confront her he finds she has been murdered & the diary she was using to blackmail him is missing. He traces the people who attended a séance at the medium’s house shortly before her death in his search for the diary. Sensational novelist Carolyn Fordyce was one of those people. She has secrets of her own & she does not trust Adam not to fix the crime on her out of convenience. She decides to look into it on her own to protect herself. Eventually they team up & I’m sure you can guess the rest. Adam has moments of overbearing-ness but not so much I wanted to shake him & turns out to be quite generous & likeable once you get past all his ridiculous rules. Carolyn though was great, wonderfully well written, almost as if the author knows what it’s like to be a writer of sensational novels. Smile Overall the story was decent.
Second Sight (The Arcane Society, Book 1) I am just now getting around to reading book 1 of the Arcane Society after reading about 5 others in the series (several of which are contemporaries & I don’t read contemporary romances. Maybe next summer). Venetia Milton is a photographer, trying to support her siblings & aunt after her parents’ deaths leave them destitute. She can read auras. She is hired by the Arcane Society to photograph some of their artifacts. She travels to Arcane House to do this & meets Gabriel Jones, heir to the Master’s Chair of the Arcane Society. They share one brief passionate experience before the house is invaded by robbers & she & the staff flee. Later she learns of Gabriel’s death & she takes the name Mrs Jones in his honor before she embarks on pursuing her career in London. Only he isn’t dead & when he learns she is using his name he fears the people who came after him that night will come after her. Together they pursue a mysterious killer & search for a dangerous missing artifact.  I really enjoyed this one. Very well plotted. I liked Venetia & Gabriel and found their interaction to be believable. The mystery was not that mysterious to me because, having read the books out of order I know how the overriding story arc ends but that did not detract from the enjoyment of seeing how it all began

Then there are the other romances I read

A Sense of Sin by Elizabeth Essex. Rupert, Viscount Darling (who names these guys?) blames Celia Burke for his sister Emily’s suicide & for revenge he decides to ruin her in the eyes of society by seducing her (as motivation…I don’t know…seems like sleeping with her would be the last thing a man would want to do but maybe if you have grown up named Rupert Darling you’d feel differently) Celia does feel some guilt for her part in Emily’s death but not for the reasons Del thinks. And they are both being blackmailed by someone who knows a good deal about just what happened to Emily. Initially they suspect each other but eventually they team up to solve the mystery.  The story had it’s ups and downs. The mystery was somewhat clunky, the motives of everyone were a bit confusing & lacking in much background but the romance was decent. Regency setting
Always a Princess by Alice Gaines. I loved the premise of this book. Eve Stanhope is a former governess who was ruined & cast out when she was falsely accused of stealing her employers jewels. So she decides the best way to support herself is to become a jewel thief for real. To that end she poses as Princess Eugenia d’Armand of Valdstok to gain entrée to society balls. But there is another jewel thief preying on society as well – the Orchid Thief, who is actually the bored Phillip Rosemont, Viscount Wesley. He sees through her disguise & offers to team up. It wasn’t love at first sight, they were too suspicious of one another for that, and Eve had a few other secrets she was in no hurry to share, but love did eventually grow as they come know one another & that is a refreshing change. I thought the ending was a bit forced & rather strained credulity but overall the book was a win. I just felt it could have been a bit more than it was. Regency setting
The Vow: A Loveswept Historical Medieval Romance by Juliana Garnett. This one was set in England, near the Scottish border, at the time of the Norman Conquest. Ceara of Wulfridge hates the Normans & the destruction they have brought to England. When a Norman lord demands entry to her home & sends her messenger’s head back in response to a request for a talk she attacks him & his troops. King William cannot allow this and sends Luc Louvat to quell the rebellion, take over the lands & deliver the rebel chieftain to him (thinking it is Ceara’s father). Luc succeeds in this and because he took her virginity as well (with her kind of willing cooperation) they are ordered to wed. While the two are electric together, both have them a great many things to overcome in their own pasts, as well as in their combined present before they can admit their true feelings for one another. Ceara’s motivations were clear, what was driving her mistrust of him was spelled out early on & made sense. Luc though is another matter. His motivations for a long time were left vague to the detriment of the story for me & did not seems as driving  as they were made out to be. It seemed he was just being difficult because he was an arrogant PITA a lot of the time. Plus his justification for his method of persuasion when he first slept with Ceara reminded me a little too much of a date rapist claiming his victim’s choice between having sex with him or walking home 10 miles in the freezing rain was actually a valid choice so therefore she was willing. That, more than anything kept me from warming much to him until near the end. Once bits of his background were filled in he made more sense & I’m not sure why those things were kept from the reader or Ceara for so long. Given the other things going on it would hardly of detracted from the story to explain his background earlier. I don’t think I have read a romance set in Norman times in more than 20 years & it was enjoyable to revisit the period, which was well done with a decent amount of detail. Overall I enjoyed it.

Disclosure -  I received a free copy of the book in exchange for writing a review about it here on my blog & anywhere else I wished.

Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue by Stephanie Laurens. The latest Cynster novel. Eh. Usually I love the Cynster books and this started off with a great deal of promise. Heather Cynster is kidnapped by agents of a ‘laird’ sent after ‘one of the Cynster sisters’, any one will do, & she was in a position to be snatched due to Viscount Breckenridge removing her from a party she was attending, on the grounds it was too wild for her, and letting her walk alone to her carriage. He sees her being taken & follows after her. Not being the weak & helpless sort Heather sets herself to finding out why she was taken & learning from her captors what she can about their employer. The kidnappers are not your run of the mill rent a thugs, they are smart men & respect her intelligence & capabilities. They take her to Gretna Green to await the laird. Before he turns up she escapes with the help of Breckenridge. The laird pursues them to the Vale of Casphairn, where Richard & Catriona Cynster live, then accepting his quarry has eluded him, he returns to his highland home.

And at this point the the promise sort of fails for me. Lacking any drama or mystery, we are left watching Breckenridge do his damnedest not to admit he loves Heather for far far too many pages. He at least seems to have a valid reason for this behavior, unlike several other of Laurens’ heroes, who also exhibit it. But still, get over yourself man & speak up! If your ego is that important to you she is probably better off without you. Not that she is necessarily proclaiming her undying love either but she is certainly more open about it. Endlessly repeating “We must marry because society says so” after she has basically said “Oh hell no, not for that reason” more than once, is not going to change her mind & is really irritating after a bit, not to mention made me start questioning his intelligence.

I was beginning to think there would be no dramatic action to precipitate he & Heather’s finally admitting their feelings to one another, but at last there was. And good thing too because I was about done with them both, likeable as they both are. There is only so much ‘no, a man like me can’t admit love’ nonsense I can take.

Meanwhile I want to know more about this laird, he seems more complex & interesting than Breckenridge.He’s featured in the next book which comes out in October focusing on his pursuit of the next Cynster sister, Eliza.

I did like that we got to see more of Richard & Catriona. He is my very favorite of all the Cynster males.

My last book was non-fiction

Livia, Empress of Rome: A Biography I didn’t know much about Livia, wife of the first Augustus, apart from the fact that contemporary male authors didn’t like her. This was an interesting study about her. I felt I learned a great deal about her and the times in which she lived. If you are interested in the roles women had in early days of the Roman Empire I highly recommend it

I think I have completed my summer thesis research on the ever evolving hero in historic romance. Not that I am giving up romance novels but probably I will be going back to just my tried & true authors – Stephanie Laurens, Sabrina Jeffries & Amanda Quick, for the rest of the year. They are, apart from a few clunkers here & there, generally consistently good writers who provide a solid story, with a decent mystery, witty dialogue, maybe some humor & likeable characters. Considering they have well over 50 books between them, this is not too surprising. If you are interested in entertaining, historic, mostly Regency setting, romances with a bit of a puzzle to solve, you will do well with just about any book by one of them.

September

I read 14 books in September, putting me at 99 books for the year so far.

I had a mix of things this time, some mysteries, some romance, some regular fiction & some non-fiction.

Starting with the mysteries, I discovered a new series, only 2 books so far but a 3rd due out in February.

Wanna Get Lucky?  The series is set at a mega resort hotel, called Babylon, in Vegas. Lucky O’Toole is the highly competent customer relations manager. Her job is smoothing over problems with the guests & staff & making sure Babylon gets good PR. This becomes challenging when a woman falls out of the Babylon helicopter & on to the strip. The resort’s owner was in the helicopter,the pilot has disappeared & no one is talking. Also there is a blackmailer preying on her boss & on some guests in town for a couples’ swapping convention. Lucky has to get to the bottom of these mysteries as well as deal with a best friend who wants to become more.
Lucky Stiff (Lucky O’Toole) This time a woman is found devoured by sharks in the Mandalay Bay shark tank. She was seen having an argument with a friend of Lucky’s shortly before her death. The DA is pushing for his arrest, but that same night the DA was found naked, locked out of his room in Lucky’s hotel. Who locked him out of the room & does it have anything to do with the death? Plus her new boyfriend has gone to LA in search of a recording contract where he is hit on by lovely young women, while back in Vegas Lucky is also being pursued by a French chef & a member of security.

I got this book at the library & liked it so much I bought it & the previous one for my kindle.

If you like Stephanie Plum, you’ll like Lucky. She reminds me of what Steph could be if Steph was at all competent at her job & the slapstick was removed.

Pirate King: A novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes

I’ve had my ups & downs with this series. It’s not that I am Holmes purist, but I find the idea of him in his later years, working with a much younger wife to be disconcerting. This time Mary is sent undercover by Inspector Lestrade to work in a film company. Odd criminal activities have been connected with it, cocaine, gun sales & now a missing assistant & Lestrade wants Mary to get to the bottom of it. Mary takes the assistant’s job & travels with the company to Lisbon. They are making a film about a film company that is filming a story based on the Pirates of Penzance that encounter real pirates while they are filming. They are Lisbon to hire some men to play the pirates & to do some filming before they all go to Morocco to do the rest of the filming.

This takes up half the book & while it is a very interesting read, with fascinating characters and lots of detail about making a silent film in the 1920’s, it doesn’t advance the mystery much.

But it turns out they hire actual pirates and are taken captive themselves and the plot moves along quite snappily from there, with Holmes turning up as a replacement for an actor shortly before they set off for Morocco.

I felt the actual resolution to the initial mystery to be rather abrupt but the pirate plot was very well done.

* disclaimer – I was given this book free from Net Galley in return for this review

There were 5 romance novels

Just Like Heaven This book ties in with the Bridgerton series, only it features one of the Smythe-Smith girls (they of the horrendous musicales). Honoria is preparing for & dreading the upcoming musicale & musing on her single status when she runs into her older brother’s best friend Marcus, Earl of Chatteris and they share some cake. Later they share a couple adventures & some more cake & along the way fall in love. It was a light, fun romance, almost a bit too light, there was no real tension apart from Marcus’ infected leg. Still, I can certainly see Honoria & Marcus having lots of things to talk about on a long winter’s night years down the road, unlike so many other heroes & heroines. Overall I liked it. It is more or less what I was looking for in a romance, a nice break from the endless domineering masterful men. But it would have been nice to see Marcus given a chance to rise to the occasion of some sort of tension. The plot was a little flat from that perspective. Though the hope of a mass uprising of Smythe-Smith girls refusing to perform was a nice touch.
Lie By Moonlight Teacher Concordia Glade knows there is a problem at the private school where she is teaching, enough of a problem she & the 4 students set fire to the house to create a distraction so they can escape. They run into Ambrose Wells, a private inquiry agent, while making the escape & he helps them get to London and into hiding. Concordia has made some powerful enemies by ‘stealing’ those girls from the school. She and Ambrose join forces to discover who was behind the school & what their plans had been for the students. It was enjoyable. Suspenseful, funny, entertaining, with strong characters & a good plot.
The Dragon and the Pearl (Harlequin Historical) Ling Suyin is the late Emperor’s  favorite young concubine, now retired to a much longed for quiet life, until the Warlord Li Tao comes for her when he receives word another warlord has sent assassins after her. Tao knows he is being manipulated but he does not know who is doing it so he keeps Suyin close hoping to solve the mystery. Tao is complex & complicated man with various old & new loyalties. Suyin was trained from childhood to manipulate men to her will. Neither trusts the other but they will need to to avert a civil war. The plot moves along at a nice pace with enough twists & revelations to keep the interest. The tension between Suyin & Tao is well done with great dialogue. I found the ending wrapped up a little too neatly but that is the only complaint I have with it.

* disclaimer – I was given this book free from NetGalley in return for this review

All About Seduction I found the plot of this a little disconcerting. Caroline Broadhurst’s very elderly husband, a mill owner, is desperate for a son, so desperate that he orders his wife to have an affair & get pregnant. He connives with her brother to have half a dozen suitable men brought to the house under the guise of a house party so she can get on with it.

She naturally is horrified, but he threatens to leave her nothing in his will if she doesn’t. She is attracted to Jack, an employee in the mill, but the mill owner’s wife can’t even speak to a mill worker. It’s just not done. Until Jack almost loses his foot in an accident and she has him taken to the house to recover. Caroline tries to do as her husband asks but things keep going wrong for her with the male guests and what she really wants is to take Jack as her lover. Along the way she discovers there is a dark secret in her husband’s past, one that could be repeated in the present & she must decide just what she really wants.

Overall a good story but a little far fetched, the husband too suddenly evil for me; they’d been married 15 years & suddenly he’s this menacing figure? And the ending was a bit too happily ever after. I prefer somewhat more realism & the social gulf between them was a rather much to overcome for society at that time. Not that they couldn’t be happy together personally but the tidy wrapping up seemed unrealistic.

* disclaimer – I was given this book free from NetGalley in return for this review

Bride for a Night Olivia is the shy & timid daughter of a very wealthy & very pushy merchant determined to see her married into the nobility. He arranges for her to marry, against her will, Jack, the younger brother of the Earl of Ashcombe but Jack takes her marriage settlement & runs off, leaving her at the altar & his older brother, Andrew to pick up the pieces. Andrew salvages the family honor by reluctantly marrying Olivia himself, all the while thinking she is every bit as mercenary as her father. The day after the wedding he has her sent off to his estate so he can forget she exists. But he can’t forget her. Before he can get to the estate, to try to get to know her better, Olivia is abducted by French spies. By the time Andrew catches up with her, Olivia is no longer quite so timid, or willing to be ordered around. She is done with being dragged hither and yon at the will of men and is standing up for herself.

It’s a good plot, full or treason, spies, rescues that go awry and even the bad guys are not all that bad at heart. I enjoyed it a good deal.

* disclaimer – I was given this book free from NetGalley in return for this review

In Pursuit of Eliza Cynster A vast improvement over the last one in the series! This one is the story of second sister Eliza, who is kidnapped by the mysterious laird’s new & much more efficient henchman, Scrope, and dragged up to Edinburgh to be delivered to the laird & ‘ruined’. We learn a bit more about the laird, who it seems is perfectly willing to marry her, as part of a scheme to get back at his mother. He has a plan & feels he can reason with her & they can come to some sort of accommodation. But before she is handed over she is rescued by none other than reclusive scholar Jeremy Carling, from the first Bastion Club novel, The Lady Chosen. I admit I was rooting for the laird to be the hero of this one and could not believe it could be Jeremy. But it was, and what a wonderful hero he turned out to be! Jeremy ended up being the hero I’d been looking for all summer, someone who is able to fight off bad guys, treat his lady as though she were perfectly competent on her own, and capable of carrying on sustained conversation about things other than the bad guys. A scholarly warrior, book and sword in hand. Perfect!

Pursued by the laird and Scrope the couple sets off for Wolverstone, the nearest friendly stronghold they can think of. It does take Jeremy and Eliza a rather long time to get from Edinburgh to Wolverstone, a distance of about 100 miles, because every time they start out making some progress travelling on the road, something happens to send them off on foot into the hills. Not the least being that Eliza is the only Cynster in existence who is afraid of horses.  Along the way quiet, retiring Eliza and bookish Jeremy both found strengths in themselves they didn’t know they had.

The story kept moving at a decent pace with lots of twists and turns as Scrope or the laird occasionally caught up with the fleeing duo.
I did get a tad annoyed with the inevitable “must marry because they spent a night together” thing (actually I think it was 5 nights by the time they finally arrived at Wolverstone). But it wasn’t Jeremy going on about it. It was the family. The annoying thing was NO ONE but the family & very close friends knew they’d been alone over night & you’d think, rather than force people they care about into a loveless union of convenience, they’d all agree to keep their mouths shut about it.

I’m gravely disappointed in the Cynsters.

Jeremy & Eliza were both being quite reasonable about the whole thing. They’d developed an open & easy relationship while on their journey & were in agreement that a marriage was going to happen, they just needed to sort out how it would work between them. Jeremy quickly discarded any idea of the whole “I won’t tell her how I feel because a man like me doesn’t do that” BS and instead went about his wooing with honesty(Though I personally would not consider one single discussion about my favorite things, while walking around a lake, to be ‘wooing’ – I’d consider it to be ‘conversation’). Eliza was sure of what she felt as well & together they were quite annoyed that their families just assumed it would be a marriage of convenience forced on them & couldn’t see that they actually cared for one another.

I really enjoyed this one

There were three fiction books

Ladies in Waiting This is listed as a young adult book. I have read very very few young adult books (two actually & didn’t finish one of them); they didn’t have them when I was a young adult & I’d moved on to adult books by the time I was 12, so I have no frame of reference for what exactly makes a book ‘young adult’, apart from the age of the main characters.

There were a lot of whores in this book & I suppose that is what throws me. I’d assumed YA meant there’d be fewer, if any, whores.

It is the story of three young women, each named Elizabeth, about age 16 or so, who become maids of honor/ladies in waiting to Charles II”s Queen. First there is Eliza, daughter of a Puritan, who dreams of becoming a playwright & being sought after for her talent rather than her father’s money. There is also Beth, who is the daughter of a deceased Earl but totally impoverished, so her abusive mother is trying to marry her off to the highest bidder, while all long Beth is in love with an equally impoverished childhood friend. Lastly there is Zabby, thought to be the King’s mistress, but actually only a friend with whom he shares an interest in scientific investigation. Zabby though longs to be his mistress in fact. Only one girl gets what she wants. This was an enjoyable read, the period setting was well done, the various tensions believable and the story well told, though I would have liked a bit more depth of character in general. They felt like sketches sometimes, especially Beth’s mother and Queen Catherine.

* disclaimer – I was given this book free from Net Galley in return for this review

In a Treacherous Court Susan Horenbout is a Flemish artist sent to the court of Henry VIII as an illuminator. On the journey to England she unwittingly comes across a plot against him. An attempt is made on her life almost as soon as she lands. One of the king’s most ruthless courtiers, John Parker, is assigned the job of fetching her from the docks and saves her life. He becomes her protector & together they try to figure out who wants Susan dead and just how close to the throne the plot against Henry reaches.

Both characters really existed & had a real relationship. This story was very well told, lots of period details & a well thought out plot. I spotted the villain early on but only because I’ve never liked the guy.

The Confession of Katherine Howard. The story is told from the point of view of Cat Tilney, a woman who was with Katherine Howard when she was living with the Duchess of Norfolk & was involved with Francis Derham. (not sure how anyone in Tudor times kept anyone straight since they all seem to be named Catherine). Historically, Tilney is one of the women who end up betraying Katherine’s past, which leads to her death. In this version Cat has taken up with Francis herself, after Katherine discarded him, while she is also privy to Katherine’s other dangerous secret, her love affair with Culpepper. It is an interesting retelling of a familiar story. The flashbacks to their shared childhood give a good view of Katherine as the popular girl destined for bigger things & the rest of the girls as satellites to her sun. It’s a well done story, crediting Katherine with more intelligence & ambition than many authors give her, the plot is good but the dialogue was occasionally anachronistic, which always disturbs the flow of a book for me. Over all it was a decent read, though honestly I found it to be more what I thought a YA book was than the other book which actually was a YA book. I don’t mean that as a criticism, more as a comment on style & storytelling.

one non fiction

Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings This is a very well researched book into the life of Mary Boleyn, who is far from being the well known easy sexpot or the sacrificial victim of her father’s ambition she is so often portrayed being. She may have briefly been the mistress of the king of France. If so, no one talked about it much, and far from being pleased by it, her father was furious & possibly sent her off to live with distant relatives for a few years to learn better behavior. Weir shows that he also didn’t benefit by her being Henry’s mistress, an affair that was so shrouded in secrecy at the time it only became known well after he began pursuing a divorce from Katherine. Mary’s father is no more likeable from Weir’s perspective but he isn’t an orge building a career on the backs of his children either.

She shows, with some detail, that Mary’s daughter was probably Henry’s and that Mary’s first husband Will Carey was not some nobody foisted off on her to cover for her affair with Henry, as has so often been said, but actually quite a fine catch & they were married well before the affair began. Weir redeems Mary’s character with plenty of well footnoted facts & follows her life from start to finish, as well as debunking some myths about who Henry’s illegitimate children are, his ‘prudishness’ and whether or not he had syphilis.

You need to have a decent grounding in Tudor history for this book. There are assumptions of knowledge regarding various historic events and personalities that are part of Mary’s story.
I really loved this one. Weir’s style is engaging & easy to read.

* disclaimer – I was given this book free from Library Thing in return for this review

and an audiobook

The Bee’s Kiss (Joe Sandilands Mysteries) It is 1926. Joe is back at Scotland Yard. He is sent to investigate the murder of Dame Beatrice Jagow-Joliffe at the Ritz. She was high up in the WRENs and was involved in training young women in decoding in preparation for the next war. She also had a great many secrets, some so dangerous that rather than risk their being exposed, the powers that be pull Joe off the case and call it a burglary gone wrong. But it’s not that easy to call off Bulldog Sandilands. He might not be able to get a conviction, or even a prosecution, but he is determined to find out who killed her.

Cleverly does a good job with the plot & characterizations. She throws in lots of period details as well for everything from a jazz club, to a bohemian painter’s home, to the Ritz. Very enjoyable overall.

October

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson – non fiction about how the various rooms in the home developed from the central ‘great hall’ of medieval times and trickled down from being places only the wealthy would have to being standard features in homes today. He uses the restored & remodeled old vicarage that he lives in as the starting point. It is not at all a ‘short’ book.

Deadly Threads, Deadly Appraisal, Killer Keepsakes, Silent Auction, Antiques to Die For, and Consigned to Death by Jane Cleland – a contemporary mystery series set in New Hampshire & featuring antique warehouse & auction owner Josie Prescott as the sleuth. Josie is a bit weepy in the first couple books, falling all to pieces a bit too easily in my opinion, but she gets stronger as time passes as part of character growth, which I like. It is good to see regular characters grow & change over time. They are all well written, only one suffers from the ‘oh no someone I know can’t be the murder’ issue that drags down contemporary mystery for me. Lots of great recurring secondary characters & a bit of romance as well

Snuff by Terry Pratchett – the latest Discworld novel. Sam Vimes is off to spend a few weeks vacation in the countryside at his wife’s estate. But Sam never gets a vacation. He comes across a mystery & cannot stop being a cop so he must investigate. It turns out his neighbors have been engaging in some terrible injustice over the years & Sam, being Sam, must correct it. The book is humorous, meaningful,even touching in places. It is a very character driven story, the plot is there mostly as a framework for the characters themselves. We learn a lot more about Sam’s butler Wilikins & gain more knowledge about Sam & his wife as well as about a much maligned race. Pratchett’s themes this time are slavery & injustice and he does an excellent job with both.

November

A Courtesan’s Scandal by Julia London – the story of Kate, a cloth merchant’s mistress who catches the eye of the Prince Regent. Grayson, the Duke of Darlington is asked to front for the prince, who is mired in attempt to divorce his wife. Grayson is not pleased by this but goes along with it. He soon discovers Kate is not the mercenary he thinks she is but was forced into her life to avoid selling herself on the streets. She wants most of all to save enough money to open her own bakery. They fall in love but the odds are against them. He must marry a pure girl of equal station & the prince will destroy them both if she turns from him. Very well written.

As Always Julia, the Letters of Julia Child & Avis Devoto – edited by Joan Reardon – this took me a long time to get through. It’s long, there are a lot of letters & while it is interesting, it gets a bit dry in places. Overall I enjoyed it.

Simmer All Night by Geralyn Dawson – Chrissy, a Texas belle who doesn’t fit into society & is constantly harassed by her mother for it, eventually goes too far & is sent off to her grandfather, an Earl in England, to learn to be a lady. She is supposed to be accompanied by Cole, who grew up with her, but she takes off without him, leaving him to catch up with her at her grandfather’s manor. Cole is also supposed to be looking for a copy of the Texas Declaration of Independence. It was ok, nothing really memorably bad or good about it. The villain was sort of lacking in motive & some of the character’s reactions to various information seemed out of character, but overall a decent read.

Desired by Nicola Cornick – Tess is a young multiple widow, having had 3 previous husbands. Due to the abuse she suffered at her second husband’s hands she prefers to marry men who won’t demand anything physical of her. A man who claims he is owed money by her third husband demands he marry her young stepdaughter to pay the debt. Tess decides to seek out a husband to help her fight this man. She hears that Owen, Viscount Rothbury is unable to perform sexually due to a combat injury & peruses him. But she has been misinformed. Tess also has a secret that could get her imprisoned or even killed. Both of them have to overcome their trust issues to make the relationship work. This is apparently part of a series but is the only book in it I have read, which may account for the slightly off feeling it gave me – things unexplained.

Cleopatra the Great by Joann Fletcher – non fiction about Cleopatra. Well done & easy to read.

Where the Hell Am I?: Trips I Have Survived by Ken Levine – memoir of his travels around the country over a period of about 10 years. Very funny & well written

Explosive Eighteen by Jane Evanovitch – Steph is back from her trip to Hawaii & refuses to discuss it with anyone. Joe & Ranger are both the worse for wear and neither is too happy with her. And what is with the tan line on her ring finger? On her flight home her seatmate slips a photo into her purse & then is killed. Suddenly a lot of people are interested in getting their hands on that photo. Steph found it & threw it away but no one believes her. The reasons behind the plot seem a bit far fetched & for once nothing dramatic happens to her car, so this entry falls a bit flat for me.

A Scandalous Proposition by Wendy Soliman – couldn’t have been too scandalous, I can’t remember a thing about it.

To Wed a Wild Lord by Sabrina Jeffries – the latest in the Hellions of Halsted Hall series. The youngest son Gabriel, decides he has to marry the sister of one of his oldest friends, because that friend died racing him, leaving the sister with no future prospects. The sister holds Gabriel to blame for her brother’s death, believing he incited her brother into that race & she wants nothing to with his proposal. But Gabriel slowly wins her over causing them both to reconsider their motives and question what really happened the night before that race 7 years earlier.

Strange Images of Death by Barbara Cleverly – an audio book – Joe stops by a castle in France to drop off the daughter of a friend he is escorting. Once there he asked to hang around for a day & look into an act of vandalism against a medieval statue. Then a body turns up where the statue was & Joe finds himself helping the French police investigate a murder that has it’s roots in the middle ages. Enjoyable.

Be Sociable, Share!