Book Review: Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay

 

Death on the Cherwell Book ReviewFor Miss Cordell, principal of Persephone College, there are two great evils in the world: unladylike behavior among her students and bad publicity for the college. So her prim and cosy world is turned upside down when a secret society of undergraduates meets by the river on a gloomy January afternoon, only to find the drowned body of the college bursar floating in her canoe.

The police assume that a student prank got out of hand, but the resourceful Persephone girls suspect foul play, and take the investigation into their own hands. Soon they uncover the tangled secrets that led to the bursar’s death – and the clues that point to a fellow student.

Received from Poisoned Pen Press, via Netgalley, in exchange for a review.

I’ve been in two minds as to whether to write a review right now about this book, but decided to give it a go. I read this in late 2016, at a time that I became a touch apathetic around reading in general, and this might well have soured enjoyment of any book I read during this time.

This should be exactly my type of book – set in a woman only college, with plucky gels suspecting foul play; their best men friends/brothers being pulled into the investigation (despite them being asked to do unspeakably bad things – like ask their friends questions!; a random Yugoslavian student who may be mad enough to kill; and several older, gentlemanly policemen who have to put up with women going where they shouldn’t.

In reading other reviews of this book to get some inspiration, it seems that other people are able to articulate my general mood – one calls it a “curate’s egg” (i.e. “good in parts”), whilst others say that the story “ebbs and flows”. This is generally what I was thinking, where the conversations between the girls for example are good, but there is far too much time spent working out possibilities in terms of alibis, motives and routes taken. The attitudes of some of the characters are quite old fashioned to modern day audiences, but are very much a product of the time the book was written – and should not be a surprise to consumers of Golden Age Crime.

In Summary: I might well read this book again in the future when I’m in a better frame of mind, and should my reaction change, you’ll find out about it!

 

Book Review: Wrong Brother, Right Match (Anyone But You #3) by Jennifer Shirk

Wrong BrotherMatchmaking guru Kennedy Pepperdine’s life is perfect. Perfect job. Perfect friends. Perfect boyfriend. Except…when she gets trapped in an elevator with a handsome stranger, she accidentally confesses a secret: maybe her perfect boyfriend, Justin, isn’t so perfect for her after all. But a matchmaker should be able to successfully match herself, right? Thankfully, she’ll never see the handsome stranger again. Until she heads home with Justin for the holidays and learns that the sexy stranger is none other than Justin’s older brother, Matt.

Matt Ellis is trying to be on his best behavior for his mother—it is Christmas, after all. But when he recognizes the beautiful woman from the elevator—the one he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about for months—his best behavior is being held by a thread. Matt’s always sacrificed for his family, and nothing is more important than their happiness, but the more time he spends around Kennedy, the more he wonders if her supposed “right match” might just be the wrong brother.

Picked up from Netgalley in exchange for a review.

This is the 3rd book in the series, but you wouldnt know it from reading it – I actually dont know who came beforehand in the series.

Anyway, Kennedy is dating Justin – well “dating” isnt the word, it’s more a case of “knowing each other exist”. Kennedy’s dating company is based on some software, through which she found Justin. On paper he is everything she wants and needs, but the reality is proving to be different. It’s clear that he’s putting work before her, and doesn’t know the first thing about her. Pride and the need for stability however is not letting her admit defeat, even when she has the most incredible kiss from another man whilst trapped in an lift whilst in Vegas.

Six months later Kennedy and Justin are engaged, and for once, Justin has agreed to go home to his family’s winery in order to introduce his fiance. It’s clear he still knows little about Kennedy, thinking she prefers cider over chocolate.  They’re barely in the house when Kennedy and Matt realise that they know each other – they kissed each other in Vegas! Centered in work, Justin goes back to New York to complete some work, and doesnt seem to be in a rush to come back home, asking Matt to look after her.

Course, cue spending lots of time together, falling in love, Kennedy coming to terms with the fact she’s made a mistake etc. New investors in her company bring hte launch of the software forward from Feb to the New Year, demanding that Kennedy returns to New York for the presentation – however, this is when Kennedy gets to make an important announcement that could affect everyone around her. Other people also get the chance to realise where they need to make changes, so of course they do!

This is a clean romance, with only one brief kiss between the main characters (to show if nothing else “that nothing went on” and that Matt didnt betray his brother).  There’s plenty of loose threads left untied to allow for a number of other books to be written in the same world. Not sure I’ll be in a rush to track down more of these, but if some turn up on offer, I wouldnt look to turn them down!

About this author

Jennifer Shirk has a bachelor degree in pharmacy-which has in NO WAY at all helped her with her writing career. But she likes to point it out, since it shows romantic-at-hearts come in all shapes, sizes, and mind-numbing educations.

She writes sweet (and sometimes even funny) romances for Avalon Books/Montlake Romance and now Entangled Publishing. Her novel SUNNY DAYS FOR SAM won the 2013 Golden Quill Published Authors Contest for Best Traditional Romance and recently, her novel WEDDING DATE FOR HIRE was a 2016 Golden Leaf finalist for best short contemporary romance.

Lately she’s been on a serious exercise kick. But don’t hold that against her.

Book Review: A Proposal to Die For by Vivian Conroy

A Proposal to Die For

With her father away in India, Lady Alkmene Callender finds being left to her own devices in London intolerably dull, until the glamorous Broadway star Evelyn Steinbeck arrives in town! Gossip abounds about the New York socialite, but when Ms Steinbeck’s wealthy uncle, Silas Norwhich, is found dead Lady Alkmene finds her interest is piqued. Because this death sounds a lot to her like murder…

Desperate to uncover the truth, Lady Alkmene begins to look into Ms Steinbeck’s past – only to be hampered by the arrival of journalist, Jake Dubois – who believes she is merely an amateur lady-detective meddling in matters she knows nothing about!

But Lady Alkmene refuses to be deterred from the case and together they dig deeper, only to discover that some secrets should never come to light…

I read this a few weeks ago having picked up a prepubbed copy from netgalley, but have only just gotten around to writing a review …. Sorry all!

Anyway Lady Alkmene is at a society event and at a loss of what to do now her father is off on one of his botany jaunts. She overhears a man propsing to an American woman, but both are hidden behind a folding screen and she never gets to find out who the man is.  She finds out who the woman is, when she is introduced to her later at the party. Having recently arrived from the states, Evelynis the niece of Silas Norwhich, a man known for having a priceless collection of art.

Problem is, Silas is dead within days, with the newly found niece about to inherit every thing. However, was the death an accident, or was it murder? Alkmene suspects the latter, and with time on her hands, starts investigating.  Her name and connections get her only so far however, but other doors begin to open when she joins forces with the investigative journalist Jake Dubois. He initially dislikes her meddling, no matter how well interntioned, especially when she tries to deal with issues that she ultimately will only make worse, no matter what she tries.

In the end however, they come to some form of truce, and work together to find out about identity fraud, lost families, deaths…all the things you would want in such a mystery. Whether or not the crime itself is complex, the hard work is on the world-creation for this novel, which is the more enjoyable for all the detail. It allows for further novels to have both the glamour of the “highlife” (diamonds, parties and steam ships) combined with the gutterlife (the slums, the pre-NHS/pre-dole world) for the low paid and sick.

I know there are at least two other books in this series, and there are enough “gaps” to allow for further developments later. Such as: where does the chemistry between the two leads take them? Is London really that progressive (a mere 20 years after the death of Victoria) for a girl to be allowed to run around town without a chaperone? Or is her father living in his own world so much that he doesn’t wonder about the “look of the thing”, and therefore not arrange for Alkmene to have a companion?

 

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 Whisper of Magic by Patricia Rice

Whisper of Magic by Patricia Rice

The death of Celeste Rochester’s father on the voyage from Jamaica to London leaves her and her young siblings nearly penniless in a foreign country. Forced to battle lawyers for her inheritance and the roof over their heads, Celeste has only one weapon: her mysteriously compelling voice.

Having become a barrister to fight injustice, Lord Erran inexplicably incites a riot with his first impassioned speech. Barred from the courtroom, he acts as solicitor for his brother, the Marquess of Ashford. His first job for Ashford requires moving tenants from his brother’s townhouse—a simple task until Erran meets the uncommon beauty living there and realizes she is under attack.

Erran cannot heave Celeste’s desperate family from their home, even though his blind brother needs the property. Nor can he sit back and watch unseen enemies do the job for him.

Can Celeste trust him to defeat their foe? And if Erran succeeds in saving the lady with the intoxicating voice, can he bear to evict her—when she alone understands the turbulence ruining his life?

Received from LibraryThing via an LTER batch in exchange for a review. This is the second book in the Unexpected Magic series

I have read books by this author before, notably Notorious Atherton and Trouble with Air and Magic. In reading my review of the latter, it seems I had the same issue with that book as I did with Whisper of Magic – coming in on book 2 in the series, there’s a lot of backstory referred to from book 1, but not really explained.  Whist yes, it is a standalone book, there has been the assumption that the reader has read the first book (and recently), which can make the reader a little unsettled.  It turns out that this book is also related to the Trouble with Air and Magic, concerning an earlier and different branch of the same family (in this case, the Ives instead of the Malcolms).

Erran works on behalf of his family as a solicitor – the book has started with him in court, realising that he can use his voice to influence people and essentially cause riots. Celeste has come from Jamaica with her small entourage  – unfortunately her father dies on the trip over, leaving them under the influence of nefarious family members who want to use her estate to pay off their significant debts.  The solicitors magically losing the will, which would make her legitimate, and the main beneficiary of the estate is the start of the problems and it is for Erran and the family to ensure this doesn’t happen.

It turns out that Celeste has a similar skill to Erran, which means that they not only can resist the influence of each other’s voices, but become more in tune with each other as the book progresses.

A side story is the matter of Duncan, a member of Parliament, who has recently become blind (presumably in book 1) and not handling it well. He needs to be closer to Whitehall in order to conduct his business but unfortunately, Celeste has taken a 5 year lease on the house. Some of the book therefore is concerned with working out how to share the house, then making adjustments for a blind man to run his Parliamentary surgery from it.

I have to admit I did struggle with this book, and keeping my interest going, and I think it was mainly due to not having read Book #1. I dont know if I would fare *that* much better, but who knows?

#BookReview: His Perfect Bride by Jenn Langston

His Perfect Bride

Richard Carrack received the title of Marquis of Stonemede upon his father’s death six months ago. Knowing of the duties associated with the title, he decides to marry and spend the remainder of his days tending to the estate. His requirements for his bride are simple; he wishes her to be obedient and calm-spirited. When circumstances place him in the path of Lady Brianna Denton, whose wild ways make her an unsuitable candidate, he lies about his identity to discourage her from pursuing him for his title.

Brianna Denton knows what she wants out of life. She wishes to marry an untitled lord and live the remainder of her days in the country with no obligations. Only then can she spend her free time painting. When she meets Mr. Richard, she decides he would make the perfect husband. Little does she know, her boldness puts her in a position where she must decide between what she always thought she wanted and what her heart is telling her.

I was trawling through my e-reader, looking for my next read, and decided that perhaps I should look at some of the books I’ve had for a while. This has been in the background for a while, and on further digging, seems to be one I picked up in 2013 from Amazon.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be what I believe to be the first DNF of the year.

I have read my fair share of inappropriately forward Regency women (landed/titled or no), who take their lives into their own hands, and end up with equally matched men (frequently titled and landed) who meet or best them at their own game. Neither of the two characters here were up to par however – Brianna thinks she knows what she wants, but see-saws between wanting Richard or not. Richard thinks that by playing a waiting game and marrying Brianna, he can tame her into the bride he thinks he wants.  A couple of sex scenes later (not particularly raunchy by today’s standards), and with practically no post-coital regrets on either side later (she wipes away her lack of virginity with nary a glance backwards), shows she has as little respect for her imagined future husband as he does for his possible future bride.

Anyway, I get to 50% of the way through, and I’m asked “what are you reading? Is it any good?”. The latter question made me put it away with a “nah, it’s awful”. No, it wasn’t awful, but not a book I wanted to finish or rave about. So sorry, no idea how it ends – could be fabulous, though I suspect not

#BookReview: Dark Surrender by Erica Ridley

Dark Surrender

Violet Whitechapel committed an unspeakable crime to save a child. To escape the hangman’s noose, she takes refuge in a crumbling abbey with secrets darker than her own. When its master offers her a temporary post, Violet cannot say no. Just as she begins to see him in a new light, her past catches up to her and endangers them all.

Alistair Waldegrave keeps his daughter imprisoned in the black heart of his Gothic abbey. As he searches for a cure to the disease the villagers call demonic, his new governess brings much needed light into their lives. But how can the passion between them survive the darkness encroaching from outside their sheltered walls?

From Intrepid Reads via Netgalley in exchange for a review. I’ve read other Erica Ridley books before (such as the #DukesofWar series) and it was whilst I was tidying up my Netgalley shelf that I realised I had this book lying around for  a while and needing a read and review. Whoopsie!

Dark Surrender is apparently the third (and currently last) in the Wicked Sinful series.  Violet is a woman who was orphaned quite young and had to learn to look after herself by any means necessary. Ultimately she gets a job as a governess, and the story opens with the school she is working at on the brink of being closed by the new owner.

She rescues one of her charges from being attacked, only to potentially have killed the attacker, so she escapes as fast and as far as her money will take her.

She comes across a seemingly abandoned abbey, only to find that it isn’t, and that the limited inhabitants are different to say the least.  There are locks on every single door, the windows are boarded up (hiding the stain glass windows), the servants don’t trust strangers or the master, and the master and his daughter (Lillian) are more than a little odd .

Marjorie, Lillian’s mother, died in childbirth, and it seems Lillian is allergic to sunlight (hints of vampires anyone?) and has been confined to her room and darkness since she was a child. All the doors are locked because she “escaped” into sunlight when 5 years old, and still has the burns to show for the mistake. All she wants is to see the day light, and she hates and resents her father for not giving her what she wants.

Seemingly on a whim, Alistair hires Violet as a governess for Lillian, and Violet manages to start breaking down some of the barriers with the child as well as the other staff. Violet also breaks down some of the barriers with Alistair, who has not moved on from the fact that Marjorie died, and he is spending all his time and money attempting to find a cure for Lillian (he, too, apparently has the disease).

There are plenty of “near misses” in terms of the sex content between Lillian and Alistair, and it’s good/interesting to see the reaction of a man who finds out that an unmarried young woman is not exactly “unaware” of the whole matter of sex – if you get my drift.

The rest of the book is about each of the major characters learning to trust each other – even Mr. Roper (the butler) and the rest of the staff learning to trust Violet. There are confrontations to be made and lies to be uncovered and dealt with on both sides. Finally, after some adjustments, a happy ending is found.

I did struggle a little to complete this – it didn’t seem to flow as easy as previous books I’ve read by this author – it seemed a little earnest and trying too hard (possibly why there was only three in the series?).

I still like this author, but will not be in an immediate rush to track down or read the other two books in this series.