Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Unlike the first three stories in the Lord John Grey series which are primarily mysteries, Lord John and the BrothReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Unlike the first three stories in the Lord John Grey series which are primarily mysteries, Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade takes a little different turn. The book is solidly in the historical fiction genre, covering approximately a year in John’s life and detailing all the things he does during that time which are widely varied. There’s still a mystery threaded throughout the book, but sometimes a few chapters can go by with little development taking place on that front. Then there is John’s military service which is a big part of who he is as a character. We also get a bit of romance as John strikes up a relationship with another man. Last but not least, we learn even more about historical attitudes toward LGBT persons, particularly gay men, which is always interesting to me. Perhaps most exciting of all for me, though, were a few scenes involving Jamie Fraser, when John goes to visit Helwater, where Jamie works as an indentured servant, serving out his parole. I struggled a bit with how to rate the book, because there were some things that kept it from being a perfect read for me, but overall, I did enjoy it.
The mystery that John takes part in solving this time takes on a more personal flavor, because he’s investigating his own father’s death, which occurred when he was only twelve and which was ruled a suicide. John’s father was also disgraced as having Jacobite ties, so John is understandably eager to restore his family’s honor that’s been in shreds for over fifteen years. I have to admit that this part of the story lost me at times. There are a number of players involved and some of the names started to blur together. I think maybe having it play out so slowly over time with lots of other things happening in between made me forget who a lot of the characters were and how they related to the case. In the end, I understood the gist of what actually happened, but there were other aspects of the story that I enjoyed more than the mystery.
As I mentioned, we once again see John in action as a military officer. A large part of the story takes place in England during the wintertime, while the British troops are awaiting their orders to go back to Prussia where they’re allied with the Prussians in the Seven Years War. During this time, we see John interacting somewhat with the troops and other officers, including his brother, Hal, and friend, Harry Quarry. He also spends some time training his new step-brother, Percy, who has just bought an officer’s commission, but has no military experience whatsoever. Finally, around the last third or so of the book, John actually does return to Prussia and sees some wartime action. I think I found this part more interesting than I did in the previous novella of the series, because it’s more action-oriented with John in the thick of battle. Also Ms. Gabaldon doesn’t go into quite as much detail on troop movements and such.
John also gets a little romance in this book, although I hesitate to call it romance due to the relationship ending and there being no HEA. However, I did enjoy it while it lasted and felt like their interactions were on par with some romances I’ve read. As to the particulars, John becomes involved with Percy, who was introduced in Lord John and the Private Matter as a patron of Lavender House, the underground men’s club that caters to gay men. In this book, Percy is the stepson of the man who is about to marry John’s mother. Although he’s referred to as John’s stepbrother throughout, I didn’t feel like their relationship was in any way incestuous, because they’re not even close to being blood related and had barely met. I liked that, for a while, John had someone in whom he could confide and be intimate, and who made him happy on some level. For those who might be wondering, there are love scenes between the two, but while it’s clear to the reader what’s going on, the narrative doesn’t go into a great deal of detail when compared to most of the gay romances I’ve read. I had hoped that maybe John had found someone with whom to share his life or at least some long-term happiness, but unfortunately, due to John still being in love with Jamie and other events which I won’t go into so as to not give away too many spoilers, their love affair is not meant to be.
Having a strong interest in sociology, I was particularly interested in the social attitudes toward gay men of the era who were known as sodomites back then. I learned quite a bit from Lord John and the Private Matter, but this book expands that even further. I was especially struck by the knowledge that as difficult as it can be for LGBT persons in our modern age, it was far worse for most of them nearly three centuries ago. Ms. Gabaldon brings out the stark reality that for men to engage in gay sexual relations was not only taboo, it was also illegal and a “crime” punishable by imprisonment or worse yet, execution. Also, not unlike today, it seems that gay men, being viewed as morally bankrupt, were often blamed for other crimes as well. Any traitorous acts against the government, whether true of not, were often blamed on sodomitical conspiracies, and the burden of proof was pretty low, sometimes leading to a man being executed as a sodomite (even if he wasn’t) rather than as an actual traitor. Of course, any man caught in such circumstances brought shame to his family, so other means of getting out of a public trial and hanging were often preferable. It was all rather fascinating and made me look up the books that Ms. Gabaldon recommended in her author’s note at the end.
Of course, as would be the case with any true Outlander fan, my favorite parts of the story were the Jamie sightings. John speaks with him on three different visits to Helwater, the first of which was to attend Geneva Dunsany’s funeral. In typical Jamie fashion, we can see that her death has affected him, not because he loved her or anything, but because he feels in some way responsible for what happened. On this visit, John, being the highly intelligent man that he is, puts the pieces together and begins to suspect that Jamie is the true father of the child Geneva died bearing. John and Jamie’s conversations give insights into the unusual relationship they share. We know from the Outlander books that they developed a respect for one another and became friends while at Ardsmuir Prison where Jamie was a prisoner and John the warden. I thought it rather telling that when John is faced with the difficult dilemma of choosing between a man’s life and his own honor, Jamie is the only person he can talk to about it. However, it leads to some things being said that stir up a bit of a hornet’s nest between them over the topic of homosexuality. I’ll be very interested to see how this is resolved in The Scottish Prisoner, because again based on the Outlander books, I know that they do continue their friendship and share another bond as well.
I strongly debated on whether to give Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade 4 or 4.5 stars and eventually settled on the latter. The story may be a little slow in places and occasionally more challenging to follow, but overall, there was enough to hold my attention, the romance, the LGBT history lesson, and Jamie being chief among them. I also enjoyed John rekindling his friendship with Stephan von Namtzen, who is finally more overtly implied to be gay as well, something I’d suspected from previous stories in the series. For various reasons, a more romantic relationship between them isn’t possible at this time, but I’ll be interested to see if anything more develops in future stories of the series. So despite a few misgivings, I still felt the book was worthy of keeper status. John is a strong and interesting hero who I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know better and who is worthy of his own books series, so I’m looking forward to continuing on with it soon....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Once Upon a Moonlit Night is a short novella that falls between Duke of Sin and Duke of Pleasure in Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden LaReviewed for THC Reviews Once Upon a Moonlit Night is a short novella that falls between Duke of Sin and Duke of Pleasure in Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series. It features Hippolyta Royle as the heroine. She’s been seen as a supporting character throughout the last several books of the series. Her story picks up exactly where it left off in Duke of Sin. Having been kidnapped by Val and later helped to escape by Bridget (the hero and heroine of that book respectively), Hippolyta was left out on the desolate Yorkshire moors, trying to outrun Val’s hounds and make it to the next village where she could find shelter for the night and a mail coach back to London the next day. Things don’t exactly go as planned when she’s unseated by the pony she was riding and an unexpected rainstorm hits, leaving her slogging through mud and brambles. Enter Matthew Mortimer, a brand new character to the series, who becomes Hippolyta’s reluctant savior. Although not as well-developed as Elizabeth Hoyt’s full-length novels, Once Upon a Moonlit Night was still a pretty enjoyable read.
Hippolyta is the most sought-after heiress in England, but she’s hiding a secret which Val was previously using to blackmail her. Her father was a vicar’s son who went off to India and made his fortune. There he took an Indian bride. Hippolyta’s mother died when she was young, so she and her father returned to England. But those of mixed blood are still held as undesirable in society, so Hippolyta has been trying to keep her heritage under wraps. When she meets Matthew on the road, following her harrowing escape, he doesn’t initially believe the story she’s telling him. Because of her bedraggled appearance, he thinks she’s probably just an actress or a prostitute. I liked Hippolyta for her spunkiness in the face of adversity. She continues to hold her head high even when Matthew doesn’t believe her, and especially later on when revealing the truth about her heritage becomes necessary. Yet, at the same time, she has a certain sweetness to her character as well, so I really liked her.
Matthew is a scientist and cartographer, recently returned from an adventurous voyage to India to map the country. I liked this about his character and was hoping he might be a little on the geeky side, but if so, that part of him never materialized. He came back to England, because he’s unexpectedly come into the title of Earl, due to multiple cousins succumbing to various illnesses. Unfortunately he’s also inherited a mountain of debt. Matthew initially keeps his title a secret from Hippolyta, thinking that if she knew, she’d be more likely to try to worm her way into his life to get something out of him. The thing I liked most about Matthew is that in spite of his skepticism regarding Hippolyta’s story and his initial reluctance to get involved, he ended up taking very good care of her, and when they were caught in a compromising position, he didn’t hesitate to offer marriage. When Hippolyta is further blackmailed regarding her heritage, he also isn’t bothered by it in the least, stands steadfastly by her side as she reveals all, and further defends her too.
Once Upon a Moonlit Night is only the second novella that Elizabeth Hoyt has written, and it’s very short, less than ninety pages by my e-reader’s count. As one can imagine, this doesn’t leave a lot of room for developing the characters and plot. Things move along at a pretty good clip, including the romance itself. I didn’t find the connection between Matthew and Hippolyta to be as strong as the ones between Elizabeth Hoyt’s heroes and heroines in her longer novels. It was still there, but it took a little longer for me to feel it and it simply didn’t run as deep as I would have liked. Also the little mini-mystery that pops up regarding who’s blackmailing Hippolyta is almost over and done with before it even begins. In spite of things being a bit rushed, I did still enjoy the story. The characters are likable and the plot that’s there held my attention. There’s a quick visit with Viscount d'Arque, another long-time supporting character in the series, who I believe Ms. Hoyt intends to make the hero of his own story at some point. Also I adored little Tommy Teapot, Matthew's pet mongoose. What an unusual choice for an animal character! And the mini fairy tale accompanying the story is a cute reverse take on The Princess and the Pea. So overall, I thought Once Upon a Moonlit Night was well-done for this shorter format, and I look forward to the remaining Maiden Lane stories that will be released later this year (2016)....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Long, short, or somewhere in between, I don’t think J. R. Ward (in this case writing as Jessica Bird) is capable oReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Long, short, or somewhere in between, I don’t think J. R. Ward (in this case writing as Jessica Bird) is capable of writing a bad book. I’ve very much enjoyed everything I’ve read by her so far, and His Comfort and Joy was no exception. Even though it’s one of her earlier works, written in a short novel format, the plot and character development was stellar. I loved both Gray and Joy, as well as the way in which their romance builds. It’s both sweet and angsty, just the way I like it. The love scenes are a little steamier than most Silhouette books I’ve read and more closely reflect Ms. Bird style that’s seen in her BDB books than some of her earlier contemporaries, which was a plus. I also liked the juxtaposition between the rural upstate New York setting and New York City. It brought an interesting flavor to the story. The supporting cast was superb too, and I found it especially impressive that the author was able to build their characters so well in this shorter format. Everything combined made this book a near-perfect read for me.
Gray turned out to be a complex hero. He has a reputation as a player both in business and his personal life. He works as a political consultant, and is basically a game-maker. If a politician wants to get elected to office, Gray is the man to make it happen, and as such, he sometimes treads into the gray zone to get the job done. In his personal life, he’s known as a ladies’ man who freely admits that it’s not unusual for him to spend the night with a woman and then leave her in the morning, never looking back. Gray’s family owns a house on the same lake near Joy’s family home, so he’s known her for years, but it hasn’t been until recently that he’s started to notice that somewhere along the line she turned into a beautiful and desirable woman. He begins to feel unfamiliar pangs of jealousy when she’s around other men, but he’s vowed never to marry and knows that Joy is not the type of girl who deserves a one-night stand. Gray carried around a lot of pain over his parent’s broken marriage. He spent a large part his childhood and teen years, helping his mother cover up her numerous infidelities that broke his father’s heart, so he has trouble trusting women to be truthful and faithful. Gray’s views on women slowly begin to change when he gets involved with Joy and especially after he discovers her virginity in a moment of passion. IMHO, what he did after that was sweet if a little misguided. But despite that he still has trouble fully opening his heart up to her. His past has left him cynical and jaded, while his work in politics has left him feeling dirty and tainted, and he doesn’t want to sully something as perfect as Joy by sharing that part of his life with her. Not to mention, he’s just downright afraid that she’s going to end up breaking his heart if he allows himself to love her. I loved Gray’s character and how he has to go through this transformative process to get to a place where he can open his heart to Joy’s love, but at the same time he takes so long to get there, it can be a tad frustrating. This is the one and only reason I ended up dropping one-half star from the rating, but I’ll also admit that Gray’s final gesture was so grand, he almost made up for it so that I waffled on whether to give it the full five.
Joy is a wonderful heroine, who is sweetness personified, and everything Gray needed to help him understand that all women aren’t like his mother. Joy is deeply committed to her family. She and her siblings lost their parents in an accident when Joy was just a teenager, so her older sister, Frankie (Beauty and the Black Sheep) finished raising her. Together, they run a bed and breakfast in their family’s old Victorian mansion. Joy went off to college and got a practical degree that she hoped would help her family and worked through college to foot the bill. Then she came back home to help Frankie with the family business and to take care of her grandmother who has Alzheimer's, so she hasn’t had time to pursue her real dream of becoming a fashion designer or for any relationships. Even though she only sees him a few times a year when he’s at his family’s home on the lake, Joy has been in love with Gray from afar for years. She’s just about to give up on her childish fairy tale notion of a romance with him when he finally starts to take notice of her. She knows he’s not really the type to settle down, but she’s willing to give him whatever he’ll accept, until an aborted love-making session changes everything. Gray goes from a passionate alpha male to an almost coldly formal gentleman in a heartbeat. In some ways, he’s now the perfect boyfriend always calling and taking her out, but never touching her passionately like before and unwilling or unable to open up and share his life with her, leaving Joy wondering what exactly they have between them. During this time, I had to admire Joy for her patience in dealing with Gray and for keeping hope alive that they could eventually turn things around and become the romantic couple she wants them to be.
As I mentioned before, the author fits in quite a number of supporting characters who are seen in other related books. Gray was previously seen as a secondary character in some of the previous books. Nate and Frankie, the hero and heroine of Beauty and the Black Sheep aka The Rebel, are still running the White Caps B & B and are planning a wedding in this book. Nate’s best friend and chef, Spike, has joined them in the kitchen and as a business partner. He has an unusual physical feature that makes me wonder if he’s somehow related to a couple of the brothers from the BDB. He’ll become the hero of book #4, A Man in a Million aka The Rogue. I enjoyed the close relationship Joy has with her brother, Alex, who is still recuperating from severe injuries sustained in a sailing accident that killed his best friend. We discover that he’s loved his friend’s widow, Cassandra, for a long time, and she helps launch Joy’s fashion designing career. These two become the hero and heroine of the next book in the Moorehouse Legacy, From the First aka The Renegade. We’re also introduced to Gray’s best friend, Sean O’Banyon who becomes the hero of The Billionaire Next Door aka The Billionaire. In addition, there’s a brief mention of Cassandra attending a Hall Foundation fund-raiser, which of course, is the charitable organization run by Grace Hall of An Unforgettable Lady.
Overall, I had a really great time reading His Comfort and Joy. There’s a certain sweetness in Gray and Joy’s relationship that I truly loved, and if not for Gray’s stubborn resistance to admitting that he was falling in love with Joy, it would have been an absolutely perfect read for me. In spite of that, it was still pretty awesome. I very much enjoyed all the character connections too. I’m already half in love with Alex, so I can’t wait to read his book to find out more about him, as well as to see him and Cassandra get their HEA....more