Monday, 31 March 2014

Latest Vampire Review

Reviewed by Katie
This was my first vampire story, ever.  My generation was all about aliens, within and from beyond; facsimiles that became sentient and boldly exploring the unknown.  I think the current fascination with immortality at a dreadful price is the economy version of much the same thing.  It is infinitely more plausible to create fiction in our backyard.  Classical elements of myth and mystery framed by popular culture create an enticing reflection of what life could be.  Couple this with being part of a secret world, select and elite among the masses trudging through an uncertain life, how can it not appeal? 
So yes, I came to my first vampire story with a bit of a condescending attitude.  I do not apologize for this any more than first time readers of historical romance should. We all have our pre-conceived notions and if we occasionally branch out to see what the rest of the world is reading and thinking about, I say:  Good for you!
The Grave Ajar was an interesting first step to take.  Gioia Di Terzi is working in England.  She is Italian, away from home for the first time, intellectually gifted, mid-twenties, and paying her dues in a civil service job.  Bored where she expected to be wrapped up in a fascinating other-life, she walks back and forth to work, weaving an internal spell of something better by studying the gothic Guildhall building along her route.  The day she decides to take the tour is a mistake, or so she claims, but really, the reader knows better.  Roydon Thamesian is the Guildhall Guardian, Master of the local underworld, supernatural not criminal.  Of course, it takes her a while to figure this out because she’s quite distracted by his gorgeousness and compelling physique.  Did I already say, of course … oh, well.
Roydon is equally fascinated by her beauty and mind, of course. On the other hand, there’s a crisis brewing and he doesn’t have time to get distracted, or was that attracted; did I mention she was enchantingly enticing?  Roydon thinks about that, a great deal, while the crisis builds.  Gioia has her own internal dialogs even as she forces her way beyond a mental erasure and his defenses to offer her assistance.  The crisis grows, the attraction grows, the secondary characters waltz through with quirky confusions and obvious amusement over Roydon’s falling for a chick with a good mind inside a delightful package.  Before you know it they are a Team and the worst has happened and the reader is left with a hanging resolution.  You could stop there, or nag for the sequel.  I plan to nag.
I probably sound irreverent regarding the author’s work.  I’m not.  I spent hours enjoying this book, though not, I suspect, as intended.    I can make no comment on the accuracy of vampire details or the current London scene.  I took facts as given and suspended reality without a qualm.  The pacing, characters and tone were well done; I could believe what I read, with the caveats I’ve mentioned.  Because I frequently blame conversion technology for misspellings and grammatical malfunctions, I willfully ignore them when reviewing, especially when the kindle is involved. However, in this case, a pdf I did not convert, they were, for me, the charm of this book.  I *must* point them out. 
I was halfway through the first chapter when I decided that obviously, the author was deliberately using the wrong words and grammatical manipulation to emphasize Gioia’s otherness in the humdrum environment.  She would, of course, struggle with the language and the use of the word “stales” for “stalls” was quirky - especially considering how much time she spent hiding in them.  The use of single and two sentence paragraph was vaguely Robin Shonesque and since I can appreciate the staccato tones of a well drafted paragraph, I enjoyed that too.  Further, it was possible the voice of Roydon was also challenged with grammar, punctuation and spelling issues as a means to emphasize the fact he’s been around since 1430 and though times have changed, his thought processes haven’t bothered to keep up with the modern tongue.  I could pretty much sell myself on this until about halfway through the book.
“He was bloody playing through and through. Playing with his own limitations. Playing up the attraction. Downplaying the risks.
Gioia outed him from his usual comfort zone. To be closer to her he acted out of character and out of the his personal sense of propierty.
She was addictive.”
After this passage, I fully embraced the language quirks and who cares about the vampires being sold as relics, the danger to Gioia or the conflicted emotions of Roydon?  The story was a treasure of laughing out loud moments on a dreary Saturday morning.  And ironically, at least for me, the story advanced with my interest held.  I *did* care what happened.  I have no idea whether this author intentionally played with my mind or just didn’t give a flying fig.  Perhaps the author doesn’t believe in beta readers, spell checkers, rules of grammar or punctuation, only vampires and hybrids.  But, I WILL be reading the second book, and not only to find out what happens, but to dig in to the mystery of was I fooled with intention, or just so eager to give meaning to something, I fooled myself.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Latest Historical Review

Wind Raven by Regan Walker

Reviewed by Nigella


The subheading to this novel ‘Agents of the Crown’ bears the distinct hallmark of a swashbuckling espionage novel. True enough Wind Raven is a well-armed trading vessel. True enough the greater part of the story is set on the high seas. True enough the captain of the Wind Raven is an English-crown spy purportedly on the Prince Regent’s payroll. True enough Captain Powell’s mission is supposedly that of gathering intelligence on the notorious pirate Roberto Cofresi, who was a real-time pirate of the Regency era. It was a pity the espionage aspect turned out as wafer-thin.

That’s not to say the novel is sunk. It is far from sunk. It is a romantic romp on the high seas with an American heiress taking leave of England and destined for home shores. The way she procures passage on the Wind Raven is suspect, which in the era depicted seems most unlikely with a Captain dispatched on a covert mission. But it’s fiction isn’t it? What is more, Tara prefers trousers to frippery of gowns. She’s happiest dancing in the top-rigging of a sailing ship. She is after all from a seafaring family. She flaunts her skills to the crew. No wonder then she becomes a major distraction to Captain Powell. She infuriates him and stirs lustful desires in one breath and verbally cuts him down in the next. And one stolen kiss becomes the catalyst to heightened awareness and hell reigns for both.

Rather than spoil the story I will say there is much in the way of adventure to come out of Captain Powell and Tara’s story. Captain Powell treads dangerous territory and Robert Cofresi challenges Captain Powell’s rights to sail in Cofresi waters. Tara heroically sacrifices freedom to save the crew of the Wind Raven from certain death, fearing she will never see Captain Powell ever again. As with fiction anything is possible and there is a happy ever after. Wind Raven is fiction at its best and Ms Regan spins a fantastical yarn.


Reviewer asides - On balance, is it likely a bloodthirsty pirate who has taken what he wants at every turn in brutal ways will suddenly end up courting a captive American heiress? Would not Tara’s fate have been sealed as that of a ravished captive the minute the vile Cofresi laid his hands on her? I did feel the plot became a little contrived at this point. However, the author note at the end was a riveting read.


Friday, 21 March 2014

Latest Historical Review.


Reviewed by Katie

I migrated from the Midwest to Alabama 17 years ago.  My mother's people are from Mississippi and she did not stint on our education regarding the War of Northern Aggression and Reconstruction.  As a home schooling parent, I've dug in to History aggressively.  It is not hard to imagine how excited I was when requested to review a book set in Reconstruction Alabama. It's a bold author that takes on the challenges of those times, especially in a romance, and the world needs more bold authors. 
Somerset Forrest lost her fiancĂ© and best friend five years ago at Chickamauga.  She is trying to get on with her life, to accept her dreams must change, not die, and she's finally reaching out to another to do so.  But first there are sorrows and secrets to confront. Somerset doesn't know if she can do so until she does. This novel is about survival. Somerset is waking up in settled ashes and sifting through the burned timbers to find what's really left of the almost woman was refined and tempered while she was scrubbing, tending others and washing clothes. That the edges are still rough and the foundation a bit wobbly makes this woman someone I could relate to. On this level, Ms. Denney was very successful, she demonstrated the conflict of survivor's guilt that wavers and vacillates without beating the facts to death.
The secondary characters are well drawn and revealed in razor sharp glimpses as a means of understanding Somerset as well as the forces that will continue to form and change her.  Her description of Alabama barely does it justice, but I'm biased. It is neither over done nor neglected.  The narration was choppy in places and the use of "on Chickamauga" instead of "at Chickamauga" made me grind my teeth. I winced at several modern colloquialisms that would never be used in the time period but those things are hand waves for most of us.
That said, I was disappointed by the fact not one of the former slaves is described in this book - not physically and barely as a character of depth. There were eighty-two slaves before the war, now there are five hired hands. Not one of them is described as black, Negro, or even those historically offensive words: darkie or colored. No mention of what they wear, how their hair is styled, or their recorded age.  Perhaps it is historically accurate for the characters to ignore servants but Somerset delivers a moving testimony regarding these specific people to her cousin that demanded better of the "narration" for this book.  If you can write about the brutality of war, you can use the term Negro to describe a character, really, promise.
Overall, I liked this book. I found the story compelling and the plot character-centric enough to hold my interest. I hope this author continues to write ... after she does more research, finds a nit picking grammar Diva and masters the art of telling the background story once, possibly elaborating twice and then trusting the reader to remember what was said two chapters ago. I think this book was worth staying up until 2 a.m. reading. There is enough there to justify not only the time but hope for the future books from this author. 
I recommend it with the following caution:  Many historical liberties were taken in this novel.  
The most glaring example is the fact Birmingham, Alabama did not exist in 1868 Alabama.  The city was not named or chartered until 1871. The ability to take the railroad from a non-existent town to either Atlanta or Richmond is questionable. Even if you pretend there was a railroad at non-existent Birmingham, the infrastructure was still in pieces, that is the tracks and depots were not there. There were other historical inaccuracies but it serves no purpose to itemize them in a review.
As I said, Ms. Denney has potential to be a wonderful writer. I look forward to her books when she hones her craft to a smoother finish.


Saturday, 8 March 2014

Latest Historical Review - Georgian Romance

Reviewed by Fran.
With the smell of horse sweat, damp sawdust, sense of stifling heat beneath a big-top circus tent and untended gardens, the author throws her young hero, Wolfson, into Foxhall Gardens to take command and recreate a pleasure paradise.  When faced with a disgruntled ex manager of mean intent, an array of pavilions and star acts that have seen better days, Wolfson is well aware his newly appointed position is irksome to old hands of the entertainment business, not least the ringmaster’s daughter.
Young Hettie knows her stuff all things horses, and even though Wolfson stirs something deep within her, she has as much to prove as he does in making a success out of what is readily to hand. Hettie has but two choices: a successful career as the star attraction or, she, her ailing father and a troupe of horses will be out on the street. With a little give and take along the way, although painful in conceding ground to the enemy, sometimes a presumed enemy is a stronger ally than one might expect.
Subsequently, as Foxhall Gardens begins its transition from jaded hell to paradise gained, jealousy, trickery and spite threaten Foxhall’s future progress.  And so, with a romantic thread winding itself around Foxhall, Hettie dares and Wolfson strives for perfection, but not without cost to his heart, his sanity and final triumph in the midst of tragedy.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Latest Historical Review - Romantic Victorian Adventure.

Reviewed by Fran.

Whilst visible scarring can steal sense of self-worth and lead a victim to seek sanctuary from prying eyes, it is unseen scars that plague Melanie Grey. For once a duchess always a duchess she had thought, until death became the parting from a life she had lived, feared and despised. Even after the death of her husband, a savagely despicable duke, cruel fate deigned to deal a further hand of betrayal. Destitute, Melanie sets out to redeem sense of purpose and reason for her survival from a tragic circumstance that was way beyond her control. Prepared to embrace the freedom to heal from within, she journeys to the wild remoteness of a country house in Northumberland, and there takes up position as a housekeeper-cum-cook. In theory her decision made perfect sense, the reality however proves far more testing than imagined. What exactly her employer does with his time intrigues Melanie, for nothing is quite as it should be at a country estate devoid of horses and carriages, and where visitors are forced to walk from the main gates to the house. Though visitors a loose term, being only one and a close acquaintance of his lordship.


Lord Jarrow harbours secrets, too, for a tragedy from his past haunts his waking hours all too often, and more so on dark nights of his riding across heather and furze-clad moorland. To have a housekeeper is paramount in a house, where there’s a widower, a young daughter, her governess and a lone visitor to cater for. Jarrow’s needs outweigh anxiety as to whether he can trust Miss Grey, and something about her is most unsettling, not least her propensity for being in the wrong place at the wrong moments in time. Hence security all things a secret pastime could so easily be exposed by an interfering busybody. His daughter, though, is quite enamoured with Melanie Grey, and thereby renders Melanie’s life more than just bearable despite her employer’s brusque manner.


But, when Jarrow returns with a gunshot wound, Melanie rallies to his aid despite severe misgivings as to his business transactions. And from thence onward their lives become entwined and no way out for either, for once love takes hold, no matter the consequences, when danger lurks a woman must do what a woman must do to save the hide of a loved one. Equally, Jarrow does all in his power to right past wrongs, and in doing so brings ecstatic happiness to the two most important women in his life. Nonetheless, there are aspects of his dark past that remain and continue to slip through the shadows of night. Dark Whisky Road is a thoroughly enjoyable romantic Victorian adventure, in which drip-fed flashbacks reveal heartrending memories as Melanie and Jarrow come to terms with past heartache and untold mental anguish. IMHO, there’s a touch of the dark and brooding so typical of Emily Bronte’s writings within this novel.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Latest Historical Review - Regency

Reviewed by Katie

The Duke of Malchester, Devon Howard, was thirty-two, twice a widower, shrouded in gossip and suspicion regarding the deaths of his previous wives, his treatment of servants and his libertine ways.  At seventeen, Liliana was literally auctioned off and married to the highest bidder. It was no wonder she was afraid to entrust her body, mind or heart to a man she met a month prior to the wedding.  The nuptial night, while exciting, wasn’t enough to convince her to lower her guard and so, Liliana clung to her dignity, residing at Calder Hall, a duchess in name only.  For three years, Devon roamed who knows where with an entourage that included his mistress.  His absences were long, his visits short and pleasant enough, so long as she kept her distance.

When her beloved grandfather dies, things come to the point between them.  Devon presses for her admission that they could be more than married in name only.  She agrees but only if he removes his mistress from their home and his life, permanently.  Surprisingly (not), his mistress objects to this and sets in motion a plan to ruin Devon and Liliana’s newborn happiness.  Secrets are thrust into the light of day; tragedy is dressed in silks and lies, while sorrow hides behind parties and titles, altogether creating a compelling tale that makes you shudder and gasp right along with the characters.

This was not a comfortable story but it was a most excellent read!  With the feel of a traditional gothic, written in a style well aware of the modern reader, the author never forgets the values and mores of the times.  Neither can you.  Her atmospheric tone is perfect; lush and a bit bawdy, which suits the Duke very well indeed.  The dismal facts of family life that saw children living entirely separate from their parents until they could be of use, and the reality of arranged marriages seldom being more than tolerable, are facts historical readers and writers know yet are seldom willing to accept beyond the plot device or back story. 

Ms. Howarth doesn’t back up to these realities, she wields them with empathetic skill.  I swear I could hear her sighs in the dark corridors and possibly felt her restraining hand when I wanted to smack her hero for being a - well, an ass.  She doesn’t apologize for a hero that genuinely believes a woman wasn’t really his mistress so long as he didn’t penetrate her vagina.  Neither is she ashamed of a heroine that allows the past to be put aside because she wants a future that means something more than disdainful distance and loneliness.  That Devon and Liliana go from physical passion to emotional friendship while proclaiming love rang with realistic emphasis on the way things were, and sometimes still are.  As they spent time together without the entourage and distrust between them, you could see the happily ever after to be, and yes, the squabbles as well.

Foibles and imperfections are brutally exposed and though we cringe the characters do not even flinch.  They’re bold and gritty, hopeful and yes, aware they’re not always at their best when all is said and done; however no one gives up or bemoans cruel fate (yippee!).  They resolve to make amends where possible and carry on, regardless.  The use of jealousy to arouse interest is seldom a maneuver I can tolerate.  _But_ … in this case, it suited both the characters and the situation.  When they began talking, sharing their thoughts without the affectations of pride, confessing loneliness and hurts, I let go of my long standing prejudice against the machination.  Whether another author could’ve managed that I am not sure, certainly none before has done so.

The secondary characters, both the living and dead, were as intriguing and reflective of the times, as coarse in their own way as the awakening couple.  The historical details were devastatingly accurate.  There is no glossy coating here, this is a mature man, thrice married, that lives as men of wealth and position did.  Liliana is no fool, only young, and without familiar support or anyone to lean on but her maid, she does what women did; find a way to make things work.  Not only did the writing hold my interest but also my admiration for a convincing honesty weaving a wonderful historically gothic tale.  I am already squeezing my budget for more of Ms. Howarth’s books!