Book Review: Lord of Pleasure by Erica Ridley

In the Rogues to Riches historical romance series, Cinderella stories aren’t just for princesses… Sigh-worthy Regency rogues sweep strong-willed young ladies into whirlwind romance with rollicking adventure.

Nondescript “good girl” Miss Camellia Grenville only ever opens her mouth when forced to sing at her family’s musicales. That is, until the night she infiltrates the ton’s most scandalous masquerade ball on behalf of her sister, and finds herself in the arms—and the bed—of the one man she’d sworn to hate.

Irresistibly arrogant and unapologetically sensuous, infamous rake Lord Wainwright always gets his way. When he accepts a wager to turn his rakish image respectable in just forty days, he never anticipates falling for an anonymous masked lover…or that discovering her identity would destroy them both.

From the publishers via Netgalley, in exchange for a review.

Michael Rutland, Lord Wainwright wearies of the erroneous reports and daily cartoons in the press that have him as a rake, all too willing to dispoil young virgins. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy female company – he certainly does – but he has dalliences with older, more experienced women, usually widows, who have little reputation left to protect. Fed up with the cartoons being collected, even by his apparent best friends in his favourite pub, he enters a wager that that he could keep his “hands” clean for forty days. He is determined to win that wager, no matter how boring it will be.

Camellia has spent  her life doing what she believes is right in order to protect her reputation, even if it means having no fun, in the hope of landing a decent marriage. It’s meant that as the eldest of three daughters, her days happily spent on the shelf may be coming to an abrupt and not pleasant end. In order to open the doors to getting her two younger sisters married off, her father has struck a deal for her marriage to an older gentleman she barely knows who has little to interest or excite her. Her parents see her as the quiet mousey one, unlikely to cause a stir, so even as she protests about the match, she is ignored and dismissed.

When an opportunity arises to attend a naughty masquerade ball, incognito, Camellia jumps at the chance.  As the balls are masked, this is the only opportunity that Michael can have some enjoyment, whilst keeping his name out of the scandal papers. Here Camellia meets Lord X – in reality Michael – and both find that the masks and the rules of the ball allow them to be themselves, with no questions asked.

Outside of the balls, Michael and Camellia keep running into each other, especially since the Grenville soirees are one of the few that Michael can attend without causing scandal. Unfortunately Camellia detests Michael (or at least what appears in the press and the rumour mill) and makes sure she lets her feelings known. Michael feels aggrieved at finding someone who doesnt fall at his feet, but begins to realise that his reputation is not completely undeserved.

A rather intimate moment at one of the balls is destroyed by a rather unfortunate and inopportune identification but which gives Cameilla the resolve to stand up for what she wants, and call off the unwanted betrothal. Finally the pair make up and come together as per all good romances.

Not having read the first in the series is not a hinderance, though I get the impression it’s slightly spicier that this one. The main characters get to flirt and show their true selves, whilst feeling constrained by the reputation that their outside personas have generated. Both get the chance to change and show their true selves. There’s only one, slightly sexy scene, so nothing too scandulous! As with many series like this, the book concentrates on the two primary characters with the seconday characters being almost one dimensional – the Grenville sisters are perhaps the most rounded, but are still missing for much of the book, and the brother isnt even named! This is to allow for other books in the series to expand on these other characters.

In Summary: fun, light book; flirtatious in all the right parts; tension between the main characters as necessary, with personal growth on both sides.

 

 

 

Book Review: Red Chrysanthemum by Henry Mazel

Red ChrysanthemumAlexander Rada doesn’t want to be called Alexander, or Alex for that matter — Rada will do just fine. It’s the summer of 1945, and army Lieutenant Rada has just arrived in Tokyo to witness the official surrender of Japan to the Allied Forces on the deck of the battleship Missouri.

Rada has a history. He was a cop in L.A. before the war. A disgraced cop. Along the way, he learned to speak Japanese, and now he’s working at GHQ as a translator for General MacArthur. To almost everyone’s surprise, Rada is transferred to the military police to stop an assassination of a top communist. And the thing is, Rada just hates communists. He finds himself attached to a Japanese partner working for the Occupation forces — and even more attached to a unique, beautiful Japanese woman. Love is in the air, and Rada is bound to mess it up.

I was sitting in a restaurant having finished my previous read, and with no paper book in my bag, it was time to scroll through my ebooks to see what I really should tackle next. I picked up this book from Netgalley a while ago, and since I was sitting in a Japanese restaurant, it seemed an appropriate book to start.

Set in the last days of WWII, Rada, a failed policeman and average interpreter, is sent to Japan to help clear things up. Immediately he is pulled into an investigation to find the man rumoured to be claiming to be the rightful heir to the Japanese Emperor’s throne.  Prone to putting his foot into his mouth, he is told very little, manages to annoy and be annoyed by the Japanese liaison he’s been assigned (not helped that the Japanese seem to have been told more than him), and his penchant for Oriental women has lead him to be attached to a Japanese prostitute who takes him for a ride.

The throne Pretender is found – and immediately assassinated – the killing being blamed on Rada, who subsequently goes on the run.  Unfortunately this is as far as I got with this book. Rada  has so few redeeming qualities, and lurches from one event to another with no apparent plan. I have read some reviewers that have enjoyed this book, but I have read over 50% and cant see it being pulled together in the last half to make me change my mind that much, sorry

Book Review: Sonoma Rose (Elm Creek Quilts #19) by Jennifer Chiaverini

As the nation grapples with the strictures of Prohibition, Rosa Diaz Barclay lives on a Southern California rye farm with her volatile husband, John, who has lately found another source of income far outside the Federal purview.
sonoma-rose
Mother to eight children, Rosa mourns the loss of four who succumbed to the mysterious wasting disease currently afflicting young Ana and Miguel. Two daughters born of another father are in perfect health. When an act of violence shatters Rosa’s resolve to maintain her increasingly dangerous existence, she flees with the children and her precious heirloom quilts to the mesa where she last saw her beloved mother alive

Picked up at the 2016 Bookcrossing Unconvention held in Birmingham. This is the 19th in the Elm Creek Quilts series, and this time is set in the US during prohibition.

This is told from the standpoint of Rosa, and shifts across several timeframes – her early life as she grew up with her childhood friend Lars, marrying John who claimed to love her (even though he suspected the first daughter was not his), and having 8 children between the two men. Finally John’s abusive behaviour is too much for her to bear, and she escapes, taking a load of money from the barn (gained as a result of John’s bootlegging).

Lars, Rosa and the remaining children escape to the city, where they find out why some of the children get sick and the others (it’s coelic disease). They then set up new lives – under new names – and start again as if Lars and Rosa had married in the first place. The threat to their new life comes from the prohibition agents who come around the vineyards they now work in.

Whilst this is classed as an “Elm Creek Quilt” book, but there’s very little mention of the “previous heirloom quilts” mentioned in the blurb, and only the occasional reference to Rosa making her own quilts. There’s no tie into Elm Creek at all so I struggled to work out the connection.  Rosa has a certain amount of strength, as shown in standing up to the Prohibition agent, but whilst John was being violent towards her, she still went ahead and got pregnant by Lars (so she has no issue with committing adultery).

The potential threat from John is removed quite quickly, and Lars seems to have no problems with disappearing “off grid” from his family, never to be heard from again – the similarity in his looks to the Prohibition agent only proves to be useful in the end, and there seems to be no issue in deceiving people.

Overall, this wasn’t my favourite in the series and it left me feeling rather disappointed.

Book Review: Lady of the Bridge by Laura Kitchell

lady-of-the-bridge

Saiko, warrior princess under Japan’s first ruling shogun, is tasked with entering the dethroned emperor’s household as a consort. It is her duty. It brings honor to her family. This alliance between the old regime and the new can end rebellious uprisings that keep Japan in upheaval.

Takamori is an elite samurai in service to the first shogun. He is war-weary but loyal in his service under the man who ended the civil wars that threatened to destroy Japan. With no major battles to fight, he faces a peacetime that has all samurai questioning their role and their future.

When Saiko and Takamori meet on a garden bridge, both seeking answers and calm, they stir unexpected desires and create more questions than answers. Each day they meet and each day they fall deeper in love. Duty and honor, however, dictate that Saiko must belong to the emperor, and as her father’s marshal, Takamori must deliver her.

A ronin attack forces them to fight for her life. They race across Japan with armies on the chase and two questions left unanswered. Who organized and directs the ronin army? And how much time do they have together?

In a world where duty is everything, how will she choose between family honor and her heart’s desire?

Received from the publishers via Netgalley. I do have a thing for books set in Asia, and Japan and China in particular, which is what drew me to this story.  It is told from the perspective of Princess Saiko, who is the daughter (and youngest child) of the Shogun.  She has spent several years staying with her brother, and using her time to study martial arts.  She knows that it is her duty to become consort to the dethroned emperor, and also develops the more “womanly” virtues, of poetry, literature, painting and calligraphy.

Takamori has come back from extended fighting, having built up a fearsome reputation as an excellent fighter and leader of troops. Since the fighting has been essentially suppressed (ronin not withstanding!), he’s now at a loss as to what happens next with his career.

The two meet on the covered bridge that Saiko’s father has built for her each year, and at first she is more than a little angry he is invading her space. Not wanting to make a scene – she’s come out without her ladies in waiting – she lets him stay, but doesnt tell him who she is. Over the next few weeks, they meet, fall in love, and there’s plenty of discussions about painting, poetry, nature etc.

Finally, Saiko has to go to the Emperor’s household, and Takamori is to lead her escort. However, they get attacked by a group of Ronin, and they have to separate from the escort.  The pair end up in a protected castle, and it’s here that their relationship becomes more physical. Finally they make it to the Emperor’s household where the Ronin attack again. Saiko defends the emperor, killing a number of soldiers in the process.  As a result, she manages to find a way to leace the emperor and find her true love, with noone losing face, and with her having performed her duty.

It was good to have a female character who was interesting, educated as well as able to hold her own as a warrior (she kills more than a few Ronin along the way, with no subsequent wailing that you might expect from someone not trained as a warrior). Takamori has done well as the Shogun’s Marshal, but is also educated and now searching a different path in life. The occasionally forays into fights are not too often and are decently written, showing that Saiko and Takamori can work well together, whilst showing that Saiko can defend herself (and others) without the need to be “protected by a man” (can you feel the feminism standpoint coming through?)

About this author

Laura Kitchell is a member of Romance Writers of America and Chesapeake Romance Writers. She’s never happier than when she’s spinning a new tale. Hearing from fans is her second favorite activity, though book signings come in a close third. She writes historical, contemporary, and will dabble in romantic suspense and even mermaids when the fancy strikes.

 

#BookReview: Hunting Season by Andrea Camilleri

Hunting Season

Sicily, 1880. When a stranger arrives in Vigata, the town’s inhabitants immediately become unsettled. It seems the young man, Fofo, is the son of a local peasant legendary for his home-grown medicines; a man who was murdered many years before.

Fofo opens his own pharmacy in Vigata and his remedies are sought by many. But he soon finds himself entangled with the local nobility: Don Filippo – a philandering marchese set on producing a new heir, his long-suffering wife Donna Matilde, his eccentric elderly father Don Federico, his son Federico and beautiful daughter Ntontò above all. But it won’t be long before death visits Vigata and the town and its most noble family will never be the same again . . .

Both a delightful murder mystery and a comic novel of huge brio, fired by love and obsession and filled with memorable characters, Hunting Season is the captivating new book from Andrea Camilleri, the bestselling author of the Inspector Montalbano series.

I picked up Hunting Season in a bookshop – a rare purchase of a new paper book in a time of a overwhelming TBR. This is by the writer of Inspector Montalbano series of books, but set in the 1880s version of Montalbano’s Vigata (I believe it’s a precursor in every way, having been written in 1990).

It’s still a detective story of sorts, starting with the arrival of a young man who keeps himself to himself, and proceeds to set up a pharmacy. When the town finds out who he is – he’s the son of a local peasant who was murdered 20 years previously – the book seems to be set up to have him the centre of some mystery.

However much of the book concentrates on the local nobility and the fatal accidents that befall the senior members of the family. Along the way there is plenty of opportunities for sex including what Don Filippo will do to have a son (and who Frederico falls in love with, before he, too, dies…..) and the book is often described as “bawdy”.

There are comic effects along the way too – something that is often taken into Montalbano books and the show which annoys some reviewers. For example, the Marquis is annoyed by the smallest things, one of which being the cock that fails to crow when the Marquis expects and wants him to. Therefore the Marquis decides he needs to give the bird a good talking to

The discussion between the Marquis and the cock took place without the others knowing about it. They realized, however, that the cock had not budged from his intention to do things his way, since they found him with his neck broken

In the end, though we get to find out how many of the deaths were natural, how many weren’t and what was done.  I’m not usually a fan of novels in translation, but I think the translator here has done an excellent job in making this book readable, and I understand that he has managed to convey the underlying tone of someone who regularly writes in hard-core Sicilian

#BookReview: Yesternight by Cat Winters

Yesternight by Cat Winters

From the author of The Uninvited comes a haunting historical novel with a compelling mystery at its core. A young child psychologist steps off a train, her destination a foggy seaside town. There, she begins a journey causing her to question everything she believes about life, death, memories, and reincarnation.

In 1925, Alice Lind steps off a train in the rain-soaked coastal hamlet of Gordon Bay, Oregon. There, she expects to do nothing more difficult than administer IQ tests to a group of rural schoolchildren. A trained psychologist, Alice believes mysteries of the mind can be unlocked scientifically, but now her views are about to be challenged by one curious child.

Seven-year-old Janie O’Daire is a mathematical genius, which is surprising. But what is disturbing are the stories she tells: that her name was once Violet, she grew up in Kansas decades earlier, and she drowned at age nineteen. Alice delves into these stories, at first believing they’re no more than the product of the girl’s vast imagination. But, slowly, Alice comes to the realization that Janie might indeed be telling a strange truth.

Alice knows the investigation may endanger her already shaky professional reputation, and as a woman in a field dominated by men she has no room for mistakes. But she is unprepared for the ways it will illuminate terrifying mysteries within her own past, and in the process, irrevocably change her life.

From HarperCollins Via Edelweiss in exchange for a review. This is an uncorrected proof, and not for resale – something I was made (painfully) aware of, since a page repeating this message was inserted in between every single one of the 33 chapters (and the 4 sections). Alright already – I got the message! In between the sections, fine! But between each and every chapter as well….way to go HarperCollins to tell me you don’t trust me enough to remember it’s a proof!

And the word we’re looking for is Anyway….

When the book starts, it’s the mid 1920s and Alice Lind, still trying to find her way in a male dominated work environment, arrives in the Gordon Bay, Oregon. Whilst she’s there to perform tests on the whole school, she is also there at the request of the O’Daire family to concentrate on the daughter Jaine. The parents have split and it’s the father, Michael, who is most interested in the results. He is divorced from Jaine’s mother, and it becomes clear there is a certain level of madness running in the mother’s side of the family, where she could be kindly be described as “on edge” and paranoid, especially in relation to her daughter.  It seems that Jaine believes she is reincarnated and remembers drowning in a lake at the age of 19, being watched by a man on the side of the lake, in a town and state she’s never visited. Apart from these shocking details, she remembers the name of the town she used to live in (though the parents insist she has never been there), and that she had a sister called Eleanor.

Alice finds Jaine exceptionally bright and possibly already a mathematical genius at the age of 7. Trying to navigate a fine line with all the family members, Alice starts to do some digging including talking to her sister, who is a librarian in another state. Alice is also conscious that as a small child of 4, she attacked some family members with a stick as large as she was, causing some extreme damage to her victims, and noone ever understood why.

As an adult, Alice also has to deal with the fact that she is now a modern woman in a time where women rarely work, especially in male dominated industries such as science, and certainly not a society that condones women who enjoy sex, especially outside of marriage. Alice has had several sexual partners since being in college, both of whom have let her down, in particular the one who got her pregnant (she suffered a miscarriage after 4 months).

The second section of the book is Alice at home for Thanksgiving and receiving confirmation that Eleanor does in fact exist, and is welcome to come visit. In fact the whole family goes, as Michael is not trusted by the rest of the family to not kidnap the child. Finally they go visit and Jaine’s story matches up with Eleanor’s too much to be coincidence (though there are things amiss – such as her not recognising the house).  The situation convinces Alice, and the rest of the family, that Janie is not mad, and that reincarnation is a possible event. The family make a decision about what happens next, much to Michael’s  annoyance.

In part three, with the rest of the O’Daires having departed for pastures new, Alice decides to go onwards to find the Hotel Yesternight, and Michael goes with her. Both pretend that they are a married couple, and check into the hotel just before Christmas Day. The Gundersons who now run the hotel, are prepared to tell the story of the hotel, in a tone matching the bad weather outside, and the reduced facilities inside.  Nerves already on edge, Alice finds much of her own story matching that of the original owner who succumbed to “prairie madness” and killed an untold number of people before being shot in the heart by investigators.  The story unnerves her and Michael, which leads to a catastrophic event that evening.

Part Four is a single chapter long – It’s a number of years later, and Alice is slowly coming to terms with what happened. She is still working (full time in a school, rather than the nomadic lifestyle she had before). Whilst she has convinced herself that her believing reincarnation was a foolish stance, something happens that makes her doubt everything – again.

Conclusion

I’ve tried to keep the summary as short as possible and with minimal spoilers, but there is a lot going on, and it is hard to keep it short. It was interesting way of showing how to get information in a relatively technical world (so telegrams and phones were available) but long before the internet and google maps. The delay in getting confirmation of information led to the inevitable build up in tension, especially around Alice not being able to fit things into the boxes she wanted.

 

 

#QuercusSummer #BookReview: Florence Grace by Tracey Rees

Florence Grace

Florrie Buckley is an orphan, living on the wind-blasted moors of Cornwall. It’s a hard existence but Florrie is content; she runs wild in the mysterious landscape. She thinks her destiny is set in stone.

But when Florrie is fourteen, she inherits a never-imagined secret. She is related to a wealthy and notorious London family, the Graces. Overnight, Florrie’s life changes and she moves from country to city, from poverty to wealth.

Cut off from everyone she has ever known, Florrie struggles to learn the rules of this strange new world. And then she must try to fathom her destructive pull towards the enigmatic and troubled Turlington Grace, a man with many dark secrets of his own.

Paper Copy from Quercus Books, in exchange for a review, as part of their #QuercusSummer campaign.

It’s the middle of the 19th Century and Florrie has an enjoyable, if poor, beginning in Cornwall, where she lives with her father and grandmother – at least until her father dies when she is 8. Then she has to drop what schooling she has been getting and start helping her grandmother, skills that put her in good stead for later in life. However, she does get to spend time with Old Rilla, the local wise woman, who brings out her natural affinity with the local environment.

However, she’s not long into her teens when her grand mother dies, and she is sent to live with her mother’s family – the wayward Graces in London, whose Grandfather – Hawker – is trying to pull the family’s finances up by the bootstraps. Florrie, now called Florence, gets on well with two of her cousins (Turlington in particular), but reacts badly with the rest of the family, as they try and make her acceptable to London Society. The majority of the book is Florence trying to strike the middle ground, and deal with her growing feelings for the troubled Turlington, but after a few years realises that she has lost herself, and that should she tie herself to Turlington she will never be happy. Finally she remembers that everything is a circle, and returns home to Cornwall, not quite the same but not totally different.

It is good to see Florrie mature over the 5 or so years that she is away, and learn to use her knowledge and skills – the period after Hawker dying means that the power and situation has been flipped on it’s head, and the hard work that she grew up doing suddenly became vital rather than something to be ashamed of. Her friendship with Rebecca allows her the escape of outside friendship to give her an escape valve and give another outlook on situations. In particular it allows her to come to terms with her Aunt and female cousins (who, after the early part of the book, disappear into the background, rarely to be heard of again).

It was an easy and enjoyable read, with a decent comparison between the open spaces of Cornwall and the tight, dirty space of London where you can barely see the sky. Whilst things move forward, life can also move in a Circle, both on a personal level and a family scale.