So, I've finally jumped on The Winner's Curse bandwagon, only committing to read the first book in the tril Originally reviewed at The Book Adventures.
So, I've finally jumped on The Winner's Curse bandwagon, only committing to read the first book in the trilogy now that I have both the second and third on hand (cliffhangers, I'm no friend of yours). For the most part, I think Winner's Curse lives up to the hype that it has received. The writing is gorgeous, and that alone will have me picking up the second book.
For those that have been living in a cave and haven't heard of this trilogy, let me summarize. Kestrel is a general's daughter, and it was her father that conquered the Herrani on behalf of his emperor. Now, ten years after the war, Kestrel is living in the city of the fallen and the Herrani serve the Valorian as slaves. When Kestrel purchases a young man at an auction, she sets off a chain of events that leads to revolution. Unbeknownst to Kestrel, the slave that she has bought is no ordinary blacksmith. Instead, Arin is acting as a spy for the Herrani rebellion. However, Arin's information gathering mission is complicated as he gets to know Kestrel. Does Kestrel deserve to suffer for a war that she had no part in?
The questions that the author poses are complicated and she does not do them a disservice by offering simplistic answers. Neither Kestrel or Arin are "good" or "bad". Both have been shaped by their histories and experiences. Kestrel feels trapped by the expectations of her father who only gives her two choice: enlist or marry. It's not that Kestrel wouldn't be able to serve in the army, it's the personal cost to herself that makes her reluctant:
Kestrel's cool calculation appalled her. This was part of what had made her resist the military: the fact that she could make decisions like this, that she did have a mind for strategy, that people could so easily become pieces in a game she was determined to win (p. 239).
In a way, I found that the first part of the book, where Kestrel's lack of true agency (despite not being a slave) is explored, to be the slowest part of the book. The depiction of Kestrel as a woman trapped by her station did slow the pacing; however, as Kestrel begins to shape her own destiny, the plot truly becomes engaging.
Unlike Kestrel, Arin is not free, yet in contrast to Kestrel's paralysis, Arin acts and makes decisions from the start. Arin is a slave and he may have to serve his masters, but that does not mean that he is not working independently from them. The contrast between Arin and Kestrel; their difference in status and agency is an interesting one, which speaks to the underlying complexity of the novel.
The Winner's Curse presents an engaging world and explores the concepts of colonization, freedom, and agency. The first book sets the stage for a strong trilogy, creating a tension between its two main characters as well as the larger world in which they inhabit. Yes, romance is a big part of the tension between Kestrel and Arin; however, the fact that they are on opposite sides a conflict have very real complications for any kind of relationship between them. How the author is going to play with this relationship will be interesting and probably heartbreaking, but the style and the fact that the author doesn't shy away from reality will have me back for more....more
London Gambit is Tracy Grant’s latest Suzanne and Malcolm Rannoch historical adventure. In this outing, Suz Originally reviewed at The Book Adventures.
London Gambit is Tracy Grant’s latest Suzanne and Malcolm Rannoch historical adventure. In this outing, Suzanne and Malcolm are investigating a number of things. First, Malcolm is called to the scene of the murder, only to discover that the man found dead is a former military man and found in a warehouse connected with a previous investigation. Second, Suzanne learns of potential plot to free Napoleon, which could put her and her family at risk, considering that she is a former French spy. And if that wasn’t enough, it seems that the murder just might hit closer to home than Malcolm originally thought when a personal friend seems to be keeping secrets. Luckily, Malcolm and Suzanne have their trusted (and unofficial) band of investigators to help them discover the truth.
Since reading Vienna Waltz, I have been a huge fan of Grant’s series. I love the intersection of character driven drama and the integration of historical fact. While all of that is present in London Gambit, it is clear that this latest addition marks a shift in the series. I think the shift will prove to be a good one. It’s been a long time since Malcolm and Suzanne have left London, so I am inclined to be interested where their investigations will take them considering the ending of London Gambit. I think the shift in the series will also breath some fresh air into the series. As much as I have enjoyed the previous books, it seems that Malcolm and Suzanne have been struggling with the same issues over and over again. This is the second time that I have noticed a significant shift, the first being when Malcolm discovered that Suzanne was a spy for his country’s enemy. That first shift created some tension in the Rannoch’s marriage and I think this latest change will also challenge the characters as well as interest readers of the series.
London Gambit also offers a closer look at some of the characters that Grant has introduced over the course of the series, most notably Malcolm best friend David and his lover Simon. The inclusion of secondary characters’ perspectives is something that I have long enjoyed about Grant’s writing style, and her latest book is no exception. While some could claim that the multitude of narrative points of view hamper the plot, I actually think it helps to develop the characters of Malcolm and Suzanne. Through these other characters, readers get to learn how Malcolm and Suzanne are viewed, giving readers additional information. Not to mention that these are characters that readers have come to love in their own right (Harry and Cordelia, anyone?). Over the course of this series this list of characters has grown, but if you're a longtime fan of the series, this is something that you will enjoy.
If you’re a reader of Grant’s series you wont want to miss out on the latest adventure featuring former spies, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch. If you’re a historical mystery fan, I suggest that you don’t jump into the series wherever. At this point in the series, there is so much that is dependent on the previous books that it’s a must to start at the beginning. Luckily the author has a handy guide to her series on her website to help you get started....more
Miss Juliana Telford is on the verge of taking her debut in society. However, Juliana is no ordinary young Originally reviewed at The Book Adventures.
Miss Juliana Telford is on the verge of taking her debut in society. However, Juliana is no ordinary young lady. Rather than anticipating her debut, Juliana is heading off to London with an alternative purpose: publication. You see, Juliana is a budding scientist and along with her father has been researching the lady beetle. Now, Juliana wants to get her and her father's research published, all under the guise of her societal debut. Therefore, its unfortunate that she becomes entangled with Mr. Spencer Northam.
Spencer, like Juliana, is not whom he appears to be. Rather than carousing with the other young men of his age and station, Spencer is investigating a smuggling operation as a spy for the War Office. When Spencer realizes that Juliana will be living with the family he is investigating during the Season, he cultivates a friendship with the young lady, which only becomes complicated when he develops real feelings for her. In all honesty, Love, Lies and Spies was a whirlwind of a book. There was a lot of stuff going on and a lot of secrets between the main characters. At times, the plot was bogged down by all the details. For me, there was just way too much going on. Juliana was hunting for a publisher, trying to help Spencer's friend woo another young lady, faking a supposed "romantic" relationship with Spencer, fending off the advances of a persistent young man, and attending her own events of the Season. Equally, Spencer had just as much going on what with spying on a family that could be smuggling state secrets to the French. The amount of stuff that was happening here and it was overwhelming, especially since it hampered the full development of the romance between Spencer and Juliana.
The fact that romance seemed to be the basis of Love, Lies and Spies was precisely what made me pick up the book in the first place. I was disappointed by the rather tame romance. Perhaps I'm reading too many grown up historical romances, but I didn't think there was a lot of basis for undying love between Spencer and Juliana. The author stuck with the expected conventional norms of the era and Spencer and Juliana rarely spent any time together without a chaperone. Due to these circumstances, I didn't feel that Spencer and Juliana really got to know one another and their feelings were developed based on an insta-attraction. I wanted more in the romance department from this one.
Despite my disappointment in the tepid romance, I really liked the bubbly narrative style of the author. There was something so charming about how Love, Lies and Spies was written. The author mimicked the style of the classics (think Austen) to an effective degree and imbued that style with her own sense of wit and hilarity. This charming combination created such as sense of fun in Love, Lies and Spies that you couldn't help but be won over.
So, while I do have some misgivings when it comes to the romance of Love, Lies and Spies, I did enjoy the wit and overall tone of the book. The lively writing charmed me and I certainly would read another book by the author. And, it appears I'll get my wish with Duels and Deception, which had me at kidnapping....more
Vienna Waltz is a historical mystery set at the Congress of Vienna in November 1814. Our principle investigators are married duo Malcolm and Suzanne RVienna Waltz is a historical mystery set at the Congress of Vienna in November 1814. Our principle investigators are married duo Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch. Malcolm is part of the British convoy of diplomats attending the Congress with Lord Castlereagh; he’s part attaché and part spy. Suzanne has her own skill set and proves to be a valuable asset when Princess Tatiana, a woman rumoured to be the mistress of some of the most powerful men at the Congress, is found murdered.
Teresa (a.k.a. Tracy) Grant has been on my radar for a long while; however, I’ve always been hesitant to pick up the series since it has a very strange publication order. Originally, the series began with Malcolm and Suzanne as Charles and Melanie Fraser. Later, the author changed publishers and the characters changed into their existing form. Basically what I was worried about is how exactly I should read these books. Luckily, the author has shared a handy guide on her website and gives readers a recommended reading order. It’s this reading order that I’ve decided to go with.
Malcolm and Suzanne have been married for two years. They originally met in Spain during the war and Malcolm offered Suzanne marriage as she had lost all her family due to war (and was inconveniently pregnant and unmarried). Thus, the marriage can be seen as one of convenience; however, it’s clear immediately in Vienna Waltz that there are some finer feelings between Malcolm and Suzanne, which is further complicated due to Suzanne’s own mysterious past. If you want to know more about how their marriage came about, I urge you to read the prequel novella, His Spanish Bride.
In Vienna Waltz, Malcolm and Suzanne’s new marriage is tested when Suzanne finds Malcolm standing over the body of Princess Tatiana. Are the rumours in Vienna true? Is Tatiana Malcolm’s mistress? Exactly the kind of rumours that a new bride, who isn’t entirely sure of her husband to begin with, wants to hear. Despite finding Malcolm in such a compromising position, Suzanne decides to lend her support and assists Malcolm in his government-sanctioned investigation. Soon the pair are tracking down Tatiana’s blackmail victims and discovering an assassination plot. Are the two linked and can the mystery be solved without turning into an international incident? Considering that Malcolm’s a spy, I think we can safely assume that he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve.
Vienna Waltz turned out to be an outstanding read and I loved the even-handed balance between the mystery, historical detail, and character development. Despite being on the lengthier side, Vienna Waltz never dragged and I never felt that a piece of the puzzle was missing. All too often in the mystery genre do I find that the mystery is developed at the expense of the characters solving in. This is not the case in here. Yes, the details are sparse; Malcolm and Suzanne are both mysterious and clearly keeping many secrets from each other. If you read His Spanish Bride you will instantly know the big one about Suzanne that I’m referring to. I really liked how these two characters are still feeling each other out in their early marriage. They also have a young son, Colin, who they both dote on, but when it comes to each other they both show caution. It’s a relationship that can be richly developed in a series and it stands out as the main attraction for me to keep reading. I can only assume that Malcolm and Suzanne will have their ups and downs as their secrets become revealed, and I have to say that I can't wait to find out how all of this plays out. There are some pretty heavy implications to the secrets that Suzanne in particular is keeping.
What I was also surprised to really like was the author’s choice to include the perspectives of additional characters (historical and fictitious) involved in the mystery. I wouldn’t have thought this would have been a smart move and it could have bogged down the narrative, but what I really liked was the focus on those characters’ emotional state. For example, readers see what life for Tsarina Elisabeth is like; the mistakes of her past; her longing for a former lover. This added such an interesting and intimate quality that created an unexpected dimension to the mystery. Considering the number of suspects involved in the murder, it was useful to get an understanding of their motivations and feelings when choosing to make a specific action.
Vienna Waltz was a very good book. The historical detail was fabulous, the mystery filled with political ramifications, and the investigative duo were outstanding and complex. I'm only able to stop myself from starting the next book in the series to write a review; I doubt I'll be writing reviews for the next installments - I'll be too busy binge reading!
As Death Draws Near is the fifth outing in the Lady Darby historical mystery series. With this fifth book tOriginally reviewed at The Book Adventures.
As Death Draws Near is the fifth outing in the Lady Darby historical mystery series. With this fifth book there is a bit of a change in the series now that Keira is married to inquiry agent Sebastian Gage. These two have come along way from the first book, when Gage suspected Keira of murder.
At the start of the book, Keira and Gage are enjoying an idyllic honeymoon (for details about their wedding, check out the novella, A Pressing Engagement). Unfortunately, Kiera and Gage's well deserved vacation is interrupted when Gage's father sends a request for both of them to investigate the murder in an abbey in Ireland. Not wanting to risk the local investigators forming biases based on the existing religious tensions in Ireland, Kiera and Gage set sail for Ireland. With the investigation underway, Kiera and Gage delve into local politics and the tense atmosphere of the region, which is only exacerbated when a second nun is found murdered.
As Death Draws Near is another fantastic addition to the Lady Darby series. If you're looking for a character-driven historical mystery series look no further. Kiera is a wonderful character; she's quiet and full of her own insecurities. And, in those insecurities readers are treated to a fully fleshed out character. In this book in particular Kiera is struggling with her own desire to participate in these inquiries with Gage. While Gage has always given Kiera his support, she is only now realizing how her involvement in these investigations could impact their married life. What I like about how the author navigates this personal turmoil is that Kiera has to work this out herself. There is no indication that Gage has any qualms about Kiera participating in inquiries in their married life. Rather, the obstacles that Kiera sees are more self-imposed than anything. That's not to say that the challenges aren't real, they certainly are, but it's Kiera's own personality that causes her to develop anxieties. I love this level of detail in Kiera's character development and I'm happy to say that it's still evolving over the course of five books.
The historical aspect of As Death Draws Near is another great element of the book. The tension between religions in Ireland at this time are at a boiling point, and it is those tensions that directly impact the murders that Kiera and Gage are investigating. While I did have some awareness about this turmoil, I appreciated the level of detail that the author provided in explaining the historical context of the period. As usual, the historical atmosphere presented by the author is authentic and compelling.
As Death Draws Near is a stellar addition to the Lady Darby series that gives readers further insight into Huber's heroine Kiera. With each book, Kiera has grown as an individual, finding strength after the abuses of her past. It is the evolution of this character that keeps me coming back - the mystery element is simply an added bonus for me. ...more
I’ve been a long-time fan of Simone St. James and I longingly await each new book. I will admit that I stru Originally reviewed at The Book Adventures.
I’ve been a long-time fan of Simone St. James and I longingly await each new book. I will admit that I struggled a bit with the first half of the book, but there is a turning point in Lost Among the Living and when I reached that there was no way I was putting the book down. If you read it, you will no exactly which event I am referring to.
Jo Manders is a young widow still mourning the loss of her husband, Alex, three years after his disappearance during the war. Due to the fact that Alex’s body was never recovered, Jo has been living in a state of limbo and strained finances, as she cannot receive her widow’s portion without petitioning the court. Instead of pursuing the legal channels, Jo accepts Alex’s aunt’s offer to become her companion. After traveling on the continent with Dottie it’s time to return home. Dottie’s son is returning from his stay at a hospital and Dottie wants to be home to greet him; Jo must also go as she has no other place to call home.
After arriving at the family seat, Jo starts to see and feel things that are not of this world. Ghostly apparitions, objects moved, fallen leaves in her bedroom are just some of the inexplicable events Jo encounters. Soon after seeing the ghost of a young girl, Jo discovers that Dottie’s daughter committed suicide at the house years earlier. Despite or perhaps because of the tensions in the house, Jo decides to investigate what led to Dottie’s daughter’s apparent suicide. Jo discovers that Dottie may not have killed herself, and on the day of her death, Alex was present at the house on leave. This begs the question of what exactly Jo's husband was doing on leave that caused him not to inform his wife.
For those familiar with Simone St. James, you will immediately recognize the author’s Gothic tone as well as the continued theme of life after the First World War. Time and again, St. James’ style impresses me and sets the stage for an atmospheric and entrancing read; Lost Among the Living is no exception. With the presence of a large family manor, the Gothic overtones of Lost Among the Living are heightened, suggesting a traditional haunting. Of course, there is much more at work than a ghostly apparition and to say more would spoil the meat of the story.
Lost Among the Living also continues on with the author’s exploration of life after the war. In the case of this novel, it is one woman’s very personal loss from the war – that of her husband. Jo feels deeply the loss of her husband. They were not married long, and her loss is compounded by the fact that legally, Alex is not officially dead. Since becoming a companion to Dottie, Jo has been going through the motions; she is quite literally lost among the living. The ambiguity of Jo’s position as a widow or not forces Jo to exist in a kind of limbo that she struggles with. With Jo, St. James successfully explores the price and frustration of those who remained at the home front during the war:
Someone should write a poem, I thought, about the women. Not just about the men marching bravely to war and dying, but about their wives, their girls, their mothers and sisters and daughters, sitting in silence and screaming into the darkness. Unable to fight, unable to stop it, unable to tell the war to fuck itself. We fought our war, too, it seemed to me, and if it was a war of a different kind, the pain of it was no more bearable. Someone should write a poem about the women.
But I already knew that no one ever would (p. 167).
In Jo, readers are shown the absolute powerlessness of the women who lost during the war. There is no acknowledgement to these women other than the token respect of a connection to one who has lost their life or limb in serving their country. The exploration of the role of women during the war is not overt in Lost Among the Living, but when it does make its appearance, it is a powerful force.
Lost Among the Living demonstrates the author’s familiarity with the post-war era, which is effortlessly combined with a thrilling and haunting mystery. Lost Among the Living is highly recommended for both historical fiction and mystery fans....more
Night of a Thousand Stars is a historical fiction adventure, and unfortunately for me, I was a reluctant adventurer. While there were some elements thNight of a Thousand Stars is a historical fiction adventure, and unfortunately for me, I was a reluctant adventurer. While there were some elements that really worked for me, I had a really hard time finishing this book as it simply didn’t capture my attention.
Poppy Hammond is on the brink of marriage to a wealthy aristocratic; a comfortable life awaits her. But, Poppy wants more; she doesn’t feel like marriage is the right decision and she wants an adventure. So with the help of an unusually accommodating curate, Poppy jilts her groom. Determined to thank her rescuer, Sebastian Cantrip, Poppy heads off to London, only to discover that Sebastian has disappeared, and is really known as Sebastian Fox. What could have happened? After a little bit of digging, Poppy discovers that Sebastian traveled to Damascus. Convinced that Sebastian must be in trouble Poppy follows, finally embarking on the adventure that she always wanted.
Despite the fact that I’m not normally a fan of this author’s style, I wanted to read this one because the premise sounded amazing. I loved the idea of adventure in a foreign land, and after reading other reviews and quotes of the book, I was intrigued. And while I loved the descriptive setting and the humour, I personally, just didn’t enjoy reading about the main character, Poppy.
Poppy is impetuous and comes across as rather immature in her desire for an adventure. On the one hand, the reasoning behind Poppy’s flight from the altar is solid. She explains to Sebastian that she would be stifled as a future Viscount’s wife:
“I realised with Gerald, my life would always take second place. I would be his wife, and eventually Viscountess Madderley, and then I would die. In the meantime I would open fetes and have his children and perhaps hold a memorable dinner party or two, but what else? Nothing. I would have walked into that church today as Penelope Hammond and walked out as the Honourable Mrs. Gerald Madderley, and no one would have remembered me except as a footnote in the chronicles of the Madderley family.” (p. 13)
I think Poppy’s lack of individuality and need for recognition speak to the concerns of women of the time, as well as today, for that matter. I expected this need for action to manifest in a way that demonstrated that Poppy controlled her own destiny, instead she seemed to blunder into an adventure that I don’t feel actually changed her character. Further, Poppy continued to be identified as someone extraordinary by those around her, and while in some cases this was a subterfuge, this extraordinary quality was never really effectively conveyed. Why is Poppy so spectacular? It is because she’s pretty, intuitive? Beyond that I never really got much of a sense of what really made her so worthy of the attention that she received throughout the book. And because of this weak exploration, Poppy’s adventure never fully captured my attention.
What was really well developed in Night of a Thousand Stars was the luscious sense of place and the great humour.
I loved the exotic setting of Night of a Thousand Stars; this is a great example of armchair travel in fiction. Poppy’s experiences traveling and the way that this was described is stunning and evocative. Take Poppy’s first sighting of Damascus as an example:
Long rays of sunshine slanted over the city, gilding the stone and causing it to shimmer on the flat plain. Mount Hermon, newly carpeted in soft green on its lower flanks, rose to snowy heights in the distance, and I could smell the mingled scents of freshly turned earth and fruit blossoms and smoke on the air. (p. 101)
Whenever the setting is discussed, the author excels at presenting a sensual picture of the place rather than a visual simulation. This style of description brought a strong sense of place to the novel, and I feel that it is the strongest element to the novel and it is because of this that I would recommend it to fans of exotic locales; it is these readers that will appreciate this level of detail.
Second to the setting, I also liked the humour in the Night of a Thousand Stars. While I found the first third of the book to be hard to get into, when Poppy once again meets up with Sebastian I found that the humour really stood out. The one-liners between these two put a smile on my face:
We’d been riding for hours, and although I would have died rather than admit it to Sebastian, I was thoroughly exhausted. I gave a sigh of impatience and dropped my head to his back. He jerked, nearly throwing himself off the horse. His sudden lurch irritated her and she tossed her head, crossing her feet sideways.
“For God’s sake,” I muttered irritably, “What’s the matter with you? Anyone would think you were the Gothic heroine.” (p. 234)
Poppy is quite willing to dish it out to Sebastian and I found this interactions highly amusing. But, since there is a strong romantic current in the novel between Poppy and Sebastian, I was surprised that the witty banter didn’t move forward into something a little more reliant on character development. My impression of Poppy and Sebastian’s relationship is that they had the romantic tension, but not the depth of emotion that you expect in the romance genre. I realize that Night of a Thousand Stars is not a book that would be found in the romance section of the library, but since it does feature in the book, I feel that it could have been further developed.
My verdict on Night of a Thousand Stars? Fans of Deanna Raybourn will like this new book; it has her signature wit and quirky characters, and those will continue to appeal to her fans. While there were certain elements that I didn't care for as a reader, I maintain that this is a book that will go over with many audiences.
The fourth book in The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences has arrived and the team is being thrown under the bus by outside forces. Forced to go to ground with the Phantom Protocol Eliza Braun and Wellington Books are on the run and ready to save the empire once again, trouble is, the leader of the empire, just might be the problem.
The Diamond Conspiracy takes place just days after the events in Dawn’s Early Light. Welly and Eliza are returning back to England and testing out their new found romantic relationship. However, the pleasure cruise home is brought to an abrupt halt when Eliza receives the signal from her street urchins, the Ministry Seven. Racing against the clock Eliza and Wellington band together with trusted colleagues and former enemies to save both the empire and their own skin.
The latest installment in the series is just as fun as the previous ones. The action starts right away and Eliza and Wellington are thrown into the thick of it, but this time their awesome dynamic had changed. No longer just partners, Eliza and Wellington have to cope with their new status as a couple. They’re not hiding their feelings for one another, but at the same time they can’t let it complicate their mission, the fate of the empire does rest in their hands after all.
What readers are also treated to in The Diamond Conspiracy is Wellington’s dark and tragic childhood. As readers of the series will be well aware, Wellington has secrets skills. He may be a mild-mannered archivist, but he knows his way around a rifle and is a crack shot, all thanks to his autocratic father's training. Here, readers find out more about that father and what Wellington’s childhood was a like. When the Ministry takes refuge in Wellington’s childhood home, he is forced to confront his upbringing and the mysterious purpose of it. And based on that ending, that upbringing is going to have some serious repercussions going forward in the series. Can we have book 5 now?
If you’re a fan of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences this addition does not disappoint. It’s a fun, action packed adventure studded with great cameos (i.e. Queen Victoria, Dr. Jekyll) and new steampunk gadgets. If you haven't read the series, it's one that I highly recommend. The steampunk elements are fantastic and are actually important to the plot. The alternative London that the authors create is also a lot of fun, as is the secret service that protects it's shores. Start with book 1, Phoenix Rising.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley....more
I've never read a historical by Shana Galen before, and after finishing Love and Let Spy I feel that I’ve been missing out on some great reads. This wI've never read a historical by Shana Galen before, and after finishing Love and Let Spy I feel that I’ve been missing out on some great reads. This was delightful and campy without going too far into the ridiculous. It's a play on the spy thriller and it's awesome. One thing to be aware of is that this is the third book in a series. While I don’t feel that it lessened my enjoyment or understanding of this one, I definitely feel that I need to read the two previous books.
The premise of this series from Galen has been spy movies. The parallels are obvious. Love and Let Spy features James Bond a.k.a. Jane Bonde (if Bond ever actually settled down with a gal). The two previous books took on Mr. and Mrs. Smith and True Lies. This obvious comparison shouldn’t work, and it just does. I love the sense of fun and humour these types of books demonstrate. Katherine Ashe did it in My Lady, My Lord, and Shana Galen excels at it in Love and Let Spy. I certainly wont turn down more books in this vein.
Jane Bonde is on the verge of being on the shelf. Unlike other young women, she’s not a wallflower, Jane has a very good reason for being unmarried at her advanced age of twenty-four: she’s a spy. While her contemporaries were dancing, flirting and courting, Jane was foiling dangerous plots and saving the fate of a nation.
She was the best. She’d never yet failed a mission. She was the operative sent in when other agents could not complete missions. (p. 81)
That’s all come to an end. Jane can no longer pretend that she’s off “at school” and the potential for unfounded and salacious rumours is ripe; hence, her uncle (and boss) decrees that Jane marry post haste. Uncle M has even picked the groom.
Dominic Griffyn is the illegitimate son of an actress turned Countess. Before his mother married the Earl, Dominic was dragged along through his mother’s less than desirable lifestyle. As a result, Dominic’s has a past that he’d rather forget. Unfortunately, his mother feels extremely guilty for putting Dominic in harm’s way as a child and is determined to him wed to the best. Dominic’s mother and stepfather insist that he wed Jane Bonde. Alas, their first meeting is not love at first sight; neither want to marry and both are fiercely guarding their own secrets. Dominic in particular has some difficult issues to deal with. He's not a spy, but his past has scarred him none the less, and marriage is not going to "cure" him:
He didn't want a wife who was unconventional. He didn't want a wife at all - not from the beau monde at any rate - another prim and proper miss who would look down on him because he was the bastard son of an actress. He'd lived all his life with the taunts and jibes of others because of his mother's career. If he ever were to marry, he wanted a wife who stayed home and...did whatever it was women did. They did not carry pistols and suffer knife wounds. (p. 128)
The decision of both to remain unmarried is rather complicated when Dominic stumbles upon Jane when she's on mission. Intrigued despite his better judgement, Dominic soon finds out that his betrothed is much more than meets the eye. Dominic suddenly realizes that perhaps the conventional wife is not exactly what he wanted.
What I loved about Love and Let Spy was the fact that Galen made Bond a woman. This is especially intriguing given the historical setting. Jane Bonde kicks butt and saves England all while falling in love. I thought the author did a great job playing around with this spy concept. It was Jane that was saving the day and out running Dominic. It’s not often that you see this and I appreciate that the author changed the genders up in her re-imagining of James Bond. While there were times that I logically considered that Jane was not a realistic character, I was happy to suspend belief and go with in the case of this novel.
While I did enjoy the spy elements and how Galen plays with the genre, the romance in Love and Let Spy was solid. Both Jane and Dominic had their hang-ups leading them to avoid marriage. There was more here than a spy adventure, there was also a romance between two people that have to come to terms with the impending changes in their life. Jane had to recognize that she could have more than a career and Dominic especially had to deal with his past and recognize that he didn’t need a conventional wife and that his past was not one that he had to live with, continuing to feel ashamed. This romantic aspect is what made me enjoy Love and Let Spy so much. It was more than an obvious comparison, it was it’s own story as well, with unique characters.
If you’re looking for historical accuracy, you wont find it here, but you will find an adventurous and fast-paced book. Don’t take yourself too seriously with this one, expect to have fun and enjoy! I'm looking forward to checking out the previous books in the series, in fact, they're already sitting on my book shelf, and I can't wait to see what the other does with the spy genre.
With The Lure of the Moonflower, Willig’s Pink Carnation series comes to a close, and what a satisfactory ending it was.
Jane Wooliston is the Pink CarWith The Lure of the Moonflower, Willig’s Pink Carnation series comes to a close, and what a satisfactory ending it was.
Jane Wooliston is the Pink Carnation. The spy the spears dread in the French forces. On her latest mission Jane finds herself in Portugal tracking down the mad Queen Maria before the French can use her to their adventure. Aiding Jane is the Moonflower, Jack Reid, a spy of dubious loyalty. But, since Jane doesn’t speak Portuguese and Jack happens to be the estranged son of a family friend, Jane grudgingly accepts that she has to work with Jack and has no expectation that she’s going to like it. Of course, when the mission proves to be none too simple these two are forced to work together and are pleasantly surprised by the results. The Pink Carnation series has been a great favourite of mine since picking up the first book and as much as I’m sad to see the series end, I love that the series ends on such a high note. For the most part, Jane has been elusive throughout the series. Readers have been aware of her, but she’s never really played a large role. In Moonflower readers get to know the great spy and they learn that she is human: lonely and vulnerable just like anyone else.
Jane has been in the spy game for a long time. She’s been the one in charge, the one making the tough decisions; however, her leadership has left her feeling adrift and alone:
But that meant taking charge. It meant making decisions based on the totality of the circumstances, difficult decisions, unpopular decisions. It meant keeping her own counsel, even at times when she longed to our out all her doubts and worries. In order to maintain her authority, she needed to cloak herself in a mantle of omniscience.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, the poet said. He might have substituted “lonely” (p. 86).
The burden of command has been a difficult one for Jane, and it’s only when she starts working with Jack that she finds someone that she just might be able to share the burden with.
Jack has been, to all appearances, self-serving in his espionage career, changing his allegiance based on financial rewards.
The Moonflower had gone by many names in his twenty-seven years.
Jaisal, his mother had called him, when she had called him anything at all. The French had called him Moonflower, just one of their many flower-named spies, a web of agents stretching from Madras to Calcutta, from London to Lyons. He’d counted himself lucky; he might as easily have been the Hydrangea. Moonflower, at least, had a certain ring to it. In Lisbon he was Alarico, a wastrel who tossed dice by the waterfront; in the Portuguese provinces he went by Rodrigo – Rodrigo the seller of baubles and trader of horses.
His father’s people knew him as Jack. Jack Reid, black sheep, turncoat, and renegade (p. 18-19). Like Jane, Jack is also more complicated than appearances have led others to believe. Both Jane and Jack struggle with their identity, but Jack in particular has difficulty with it because he is half-Indian and has found not a home with either his mother’s people or his father’s.
Jane and Jack both help the other come to terms with their lost identity; supporting the other when they can, giving them a piece of their mind when it’s needed. This kind of character development was unexpected in this generally light series, and I really loved that Moonflower really ended the series on such a strong point. Moonflower was well-written, retained it’s lightheartedness, while still managing to give readers strong, fleshed out characters and a fast-paced adventure.
Lastly, I have to remark on the romance. As readers of the series know, each installment features a romance and while Jane and Jack were great as individuals, their romance was equally compelling. What was refreshing in Moonflower was the acknowledgement that Jane and Jack had previous relationships. So often in the romance genre, the hero and heroine’s past relationships are not acknowledged or rendered meaningless – this was not the case here. Jane had a liaison with an enemy spy, the Gardner, and it did mean something to her at the time, but it also allows her to recognize how and why her relationship with Jack is so different. Jane struggles with her past relationship, and while Jack is certainly jealous about the Gardner (especially when he arrives on the scene), he’s able to realize that judging her for it would make him a hypocrite:
Jack bit his tongue. Hard. It wasn’t fair for him to condemn her liaison with the Gardner, any more than it would have been fair for him to pretend that there had been no one before her, or that none of them had mattered in their way at their time. They were neither of them youths just out of the schoolroom (p. 344).
The Lure of the Moonflower was a much more mature romance than many of the others in the series, and I loved it for it’s surprising depth.
Fans of Willig’s Pink Carnation series will not be disappointed by this satisfying conclusion to the series. Not only does the Carnation herself get a happily-ever-after, the contemporary story line featuring Eloise is also concluded. I can only hope that there’s lots more to come from Willig, especially if it contains the humour, adventure and romance that has been the Pink Carnation series.
A Winter Wedding was a complete surprise for me, and exactly what I was looking for on a summer afternoon. This was a witty, lighthearted read, and IA Winter Wedding was a complete surprise for me, and exactly what I was looking for on a summer afternoon. This was a witty, lighthearted read, and I did not expect to have as much fun with it as I did. When I read the previous book in the series, A Midsummer Bride, I found myself more drawn to the characters of James and Penelope, who were secondary characters, rather than the primary couple who were the focus of the book, so I was quite happy to learn that they would be the hero and heroine in the next installment. Ultimately, I wasn’t overly engaged with A Midsummer Bride, so I didn’t really expect to like A Winter Wedding all that much – but this book was so a delightful read!
Penelope Rose is the middle sister of five, and has always considered herself the least beautiful. After arranging matches for her four sisters, Penelope was left on her own and ended up as a companion to the tyrannical Dowager Duchess Marchford. The two of them have set themselves up as "The Matchmaker" to the ton, Madame X. And as if matchmaking wasn’t enough, Penelope also assists the Dowager’s grandson, the Duke of Marchford, in ferreting out spies hidden amongst the ton. Napoleon's set on creating strife within the British aristocracy, and Marchford is having none of that. Complications arise with both jobs when Marchford asks Penelope to find him a bride, since Penelope refuses to add "wife" to her resume (at least without some romance).
Marchford is tired of being hounded by debutants and their marriage minded mamas, so in desperation he asks Penelope to find him someone suitable after she refuses his joking/serious proposal. He's rather shocked that she says "no" and is now rather taken with the idea of Penelope being his bride. She is a sensible girl, after all. Unfortunately, Penelope and Marchford have bigger fish to fry than bride hunting, a spy’s on the loose and they need to find the culprit before he can destroy parliament. It might just be simpler for Penelope to agree to the proposal...
What really shone in The Winter Wedding was the dialogue between Penelope and James, the Duke. I think it helped that they were already friends and co-conspirators; all they needed was a shove in the right direction. Penelope and James’ back and forth banter was adorable and I loved the sarcasm. These two had the chemistry that I didn’t feel in the previous book. And Penelope and James' relationship had more going for it than basic attraction. Throughout the book you got the sense that they really knew each other and had a mutual respect for the other. So while this was a quieter relationship as opposed to the overt "lusty" romance, it was also very well done and believable.
I also loved the silly elements to this novel. If you’re looking for an angsty read, I don’t recommend this one, you will no like the antics the hero and heroine find themselves in. Don't get me wrong, there were serious elements (ie. the spies), but they didn't overshadow the overall lighthearted tone of the book. For example, there were serious reasons why James didn't want to fall in love, and I do think those could have been examined more, but The Winter Wedding skewed more to the comical than a deep character study. James’ attempts at courtship were adorable and over the top; the lengths that he went to give Penelope her twelve days of Christmas was endearing. Only a duke could get away with that kind of exuberance. And Penelope's ability to remain unflappable in the face of such persistence made them a great match.
This is the perfect pick if you like the silliness and sense of fun from Julia Quinn and Tessa Dare, although A Winter Wedding was on the tamer side in terms of romantic show and tell. Personally, I would have been fine with this being racier, but if you’re someone that blushes easily, this would be a good pick ;)
Pretty standard Amanda Quick fare. If you're a fan, you're going to like this book. I found it rather formulaic, considering I've read some of her othPretty standard Amanda Quick fare. If you're a fan, you're going to like this book. I found it rather formulaic, considering I've read some of her other books, but it was just what I was looking for and what I was expecting. ...more
A Dangerous Madness is Diener’s third book in her Regency London historical mystery series. I haven’t read the previous two books in the series; howA Dangerous Madness is Diener’s third book in her Regency London historical mystery series. I haven’t read the previous two books in the series; however, I don’t feel that it impacted my reading of A Dangerous Madness. There were some small references to previous books and the characters from them, but this one can be read as a stand-alone novel.
The Duke of Wittaker has recently stepped back at the ripe old age of twenty-seven (if I calculated correctly) from his career as a spy. At his father’s urging, James ingratiated himself with a certain set of people in order to gain information to pass onto the government. As a result, James has a reputation as a rake and all-around disreputable guy. At the beginning of the novel, he’s pulled back into the spy game when the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval is assassinated in 1812, by John Bellingham.
Through the course of his investigation James runs into Miss Phoebe Hillier, a wealthy heiress that has just been abandoned by her unwanted fiancé. It seems that the fiancé may be involved in the assassination. Due to James rather tarnished reputation, Phoebe is reluctant to trust James and initially doesn’t provide him with all the information that she has. All that changes when her life is threatened. Both James and Phoebe will need to trust and work with the other to find the truth behind Bellingham’s motives for the assassination, and protect Phoebe’s life.
I think the copy description of A Dangerous Madness is slightly misleading. The synopsis does make you think this is going to be your standard historical romance with an intrigue subplot. However, I argue that this is more of historical mystery than a romance. The mystery tackles a possible conspiracy behind the assassination of Spencer Perceval, attributing a much more sinister plot than one man’s perceived injustice. Not knowing a whole lot of about this event; I felt that it was well plotted and believable. For me the mystery was well done, but it was quieter and less action-packed than I was expecting.
For me, what really stood out was the character of Phoebe. She was an interesting young woman and I really liked how she was portrayed. She was constrained by her status as a woman in society and I liked that this frustration was continually brought up. She was quietly fighting for her place in society, for her right to be an individual, for the right to independence:
Impotent rage, her old friend, ran a familiar hand down her back and she stiffened under its hot, prickly fingers. Why shouldn’t she speak with someone? With whomever she pleased? She was twenty-four years old, responsible, intelligent. (p. 58)
This will not the first time Phoebe expresses a quiet rebellion and I thought this was very well done. She’s not dumb, she’s aware that she has had a life of privilege, but despite all that, she yearns for more:
She knew she was privileged. That she lived in surely one of the most beautiful houses in London, and had everything she could ask for. But she would give up much of what she had for some acknowledgement of herself. Of her worth. Of her capabilities. (p. 74).
Fortunately, Phoebe is able to get the acknowledgement of her worth when she starts working with James and starts to trust in his view of her. At first, she’s shocked that he allows her to become involved and values her opinion, but she soon comes to trust in James’ unique view of her self. While the romance was rather understated in A Dangerous Madness, I really liked this idea of each character trusting in the intelligence of the other. James and Phoebe were partners and treated each other as equally as possible. Ultimately, this was the strong point for me and what will make me go back to the previous two books in the series. I want to know if the author can do the same for other characters.
A Dangerous Madness was a quiet historical mystery and romance. It drew on true events and imagined the machinations that led to that one event. For me, it was a light read and I think it would be a good fit for fans of C.S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr series and my oft recommended Lady Darby series.